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Women beyond birth

Does a female have to give birth (or at least be able to conceive) in order to claim the title “woman”? Is it selfish to make a choice not to have children when there are women who would do anything to experience pregnancy? Does blood even matter – will a mother love a child more if she gave birth to him/her than if she adopts? Motherhood, like most human relationships, is inherently complex. It’s also one of the most inexplicable: the unconditional love, the raw hatred, the joy, the pain… Nothing hurts like a mother’s rejection or disappointment.

Rodrigo García’s film, Mother and Child, considers some of these questions (and raises the rest). As both the director and writer of the film, García constructs a narrative around three women and their experiences of motherhood and particularly, adoption. Karen (Annette Bening) is a 51-year old physical therapist, whose erratic behaviour and cold demeanour is as a result of being haunted by the memories of the baby girl she was forced to give up for adoption when she was 14. Lucy (Kerry Washington) and her husband desperately want their own child, but Lucy is unable to conceive and has to try to convince her reluctant partner that genetics don’t matter. Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) is an ambitious lawyer, who doesn’t seem to need any emotional closeness, perhaps due to a lingering feeling of loss because she was given up for adoption as a baby.

While the stories in Mother and Child are all told from women’s perspectives, it also explores the impact the influence of men in the three women’s struggles. Karen has been taking care of her invalid mother for years – not giving her much of a chance to meet a man. However, a new male therapist at the nursing home she works seems inexplicably drawn to her standoffish ways, and encourages her to try and find her daughter. Lucy’s husband puts pressure on her as his parents want to continue their blood lineage, causing her to question her ‘usefulness’ as a woman, while a seemingly meaningless office romance turns Elizabeth’s lone eagle world upside down when she discovers she’s pregnant.

It’s strange to think that the ability to carry your own child is still a contentious issue. Women who choose not have children are often scorned or berated by those who can’t fall pregnant. But, just because you cannot bear your own children doesn’t mean you can’t have any. There’s adoption and surrogacy. Perhaps I’m not qualified to judge – I’ve never had the desire to experience pregnancy. After all, as one of the nun’s at an adoption agency in the film says, blood doesn’t matter – it’s the time spent together that does.

As the plot progresses, the three stories intersect to highlight these concerns, in an engaging and probing way. The way in which García navigates through script reflects the brilliance of the writing of his father, Nobel prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez. In addition, García managed to cast the roles particularly well. Annette Bening is never anything but masterful. She is to any film what a supermodel is to a potato sack (not that the script cannot stand on its own). Meanwhile, Watts and Washington both prove that they’re fast on their way to achieving Bening-status.
 Motherhood, pregnancy, adoption – these are all intensely personal issues, and the film treats them as such. And perhaps, because of the personal nature of the content, it left me feeling somewhat uncomfortable. Then again, it means the film engaged me with the subject matter, whatever my attitude towards it. Mother and Child is tearjerker that’s certain to leave any mother grabbing for tissues.

Writer & Director: Rodrigo García
Cast: Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington, Samuel L Jackson
Rating: 4 out 5

One comment

  1. From the ad, I couldn't be sure what it was actually about but your review has seriously piqued my interest! It sounds incredibly though-provoking!

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