Please note this post discussion is a post discussion, therefore it’s full of spoilers it discloses information about the ENTIRE film (yes including the ending) and these following movies, Funny Games (1997), The Babadook (2014) . Persona (1966), The Visit (2015)
So if you’ve not seen them it’s probably better not to read on.. instead check out the non spoiler review here
Back in 2015 Goodnight Mommy started to terrify international audiences, but what could be so frightening about a drama about a family living in a ultra-modern home and to want for nothing? There are threads of terror and curiosity webbed across the debut from writer/director Severin Fiala’s successful art-house horror that spun the director into the realms of other great directions such as Michael Haneke as the everyday becomes dark and violent as with his Funny Games (1997) as the pair of films share a sadistic brutality often instigated by a pair of fresh-faced young men dressed in white.
The lullyabyesque title Goodnight mommy seems to refers to the boys laying their mother to rest, for the night or forever is never clear but it holds a creepiness over the movie, however the Original German title Ich Seh, Ich, Seh (I See,I See) , and referring to the twins perception, this is the key to the movies driving force, and how misleading ones perception can be. There’s a lot of symbolism in the movie from folklorish masks to mirrors and all those little things that go bump in the night, but between the gripping tension and distant personalities there’s a really strange tale of recovery or maybe a denial of recovery and submitting to one’s demons.
Twin brothers Elias and Lukas (Elias and Lukas Schwarz) are twin 9 year old brothers who find themselves in a new world when their mother returns home after having extensive facial plastic surgery. Her whole face is wrapped in bandages and accessories, only her eyes and mouth are visible, it seems after an accident she’s had reconstructive surgery and being a prominent personality she’s retreating to her home to prepare for her future career, but there’s more than just the physical healing, he’s distant to her boys, and starts exhibiting strange behavior. She asks that they boys are silent, forcing them to play in the wilderness around the home, she even goes as far as stopping them from talking to each other and refuses to feed Lukas.
The twins on the surface seem like any other couple of young siblings, they play on the river, jump on their trampoline, but there’s something unsettling about them, they sneak a cat into their room, collects bugs and make masks, however the bugs are giant cockroaches and the cat is very dead, but they are generally well behaved and usually quiet, it’s hard not to see them standing in a corridor at night in blue dresses they are as creepy as the Shinning pair, highly suspicious, cold and distant.
The compare a photograph of their mother with “the woman” in their home, totally convinced this isn’t their mother they run away to a local church but the priest brings them back, dissatisfied with the adults explanations that she is mother, they boys take things into their own hands and begin to torture the woman, tying her to the bed and booby trapping the home, eventually they glue her to the floor, at this point in a tense scene she screams and begs to be released and lets lose the biggest twist in the movie, Lukas is dead. Elias has re created his twin in his mind, but apparently the young boy died in an accident before the mother could return from her surgery, although at times the movie seems to suggest that there was a vehicle accident leaving one twin dead and the mother injured, hence her surgery but in her physical healing time, her venerable young son seems to have gone through a lot of deep psychological trauma, or there’s the non spoken possibility that the ghost of his brother is back… Once the truth has been revealed everything just feels so much more sinister and depraved.
Looking back throughout the movie, you can see that one twin is often screen and his brother is a mere reflection, the opening scene see’s the boy on a lake, just one boy and his reflection, he’s often looking into a mirror ort there’s a reflection, in most scenes, people only address Elias while Lukas is merely hanging over his brothers shoulder, much like the classic cinematography in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, as we try to comprehend if we’re dealing with one woman or two. All of this explains why his mother only feeds Elias and prefers him to be quiet, as he’s always talking about “us”. It seems everyone was so deeply affected by the death of Lukas but the coping mechanisms just drove mother and son apart. I do wonder if all of this could have been avoided if only they had talked and bonded.
This turn in the movie is a big game changer, it’s always impressive when a director manages to reveal that a character never existed, it does insist on a re watch to look for clues.
Severin Fiala has been quoted summarizing the movie in this way, “about the question of identity and what makes you the person you appear to be”. Masks are popular in movies, mostly horror and fantasy they are used to conceal ones identity and helps villains look more sinister, In Goodnight Mommy the mothers mask comes at the time when she’s also acting differently, in M Night shaylama’s The Visit, the children are totally convinced they are staying with their grandparents despite their strange behavior just because they “act” like grandparents, it’s enough to convince the cast and the audience.
The role of the mother is to love, nurture and protect, but what ever had happened to this family has caused this mother to be cold and harsh to her child, who, as we later discover is going through a highly difficult period but her need to get back to her job, get a new face and silence her child goes against the grain. Even though the battle is very different both the mother (who’s not named in Goodnight Mommy another example of just how much her presence isn’t felt) and Amelia (Essie Davis) from Babadook (2014) both seem to be battling similar problems, a young boy with a fanciful imitation and a dark depression or similar mental health issue. But while she is willing to fight entities for her child’s safety, the abandonment of the twins mother is legendary bad parenting but whose perspective are we seeing this from? Elias? Maybe she was reaching out to him but he was unable to fathom the love as she didn’t want to play into this imaginary world.
There’s a lot to see and ponder throughout Goodnight Mommy, and I think some of the key elements of the movie as missed or ignored as Severin Fiala adds in some terrifying and really strange scenes, the mother is screen eating the huge cockroaches that her sons collect, and there’s one really emotive scene when she walks into the woods and seems to morph and change. To me I don’t feel there’s a lot of meaning in these scenes, they compliment the movie in some respects and the bug eating seems to be another of Elias’s fantasies. Just how much of what we have seen has come from the mind of a 9 year old boy who’s going through some kind of psychosis?
By the time Elias has his mother trapped and starved and beaten and tortured his mother he’s had enough and sets fire to the families home. Firefighters are seen attending the fire they are too late to save the mother but it’s not clearly shown what happens next, however the film ends with the boys walking outside to meet their mother and they fall into ashes. My belief is that they all perished in the fire and are all living a happier in some kinds of ashy afterlife. My only question is.. where’s Dad? Did he possibly pass in the same accident as Lukas, if so why is no one upset about his passing?
However you read the movie, it’s twist or the ending, there’s one thing we can agree on, and that’s the masterful handling of such a difficult subject manner.
Other similar movies which compliment Goodnight Mommy
The Other (1972), psychological thriller
A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), Korean psychological horror film as a family deals with wayward children and grief and a domineering step mother.
The Uninvited (2009), American remake of a Tale of Two Sisters.
The Babadook (2014) A mother deals with a dark entity attached to her and her son, after the loss of her husband
The Borgman (2013) Dutch contemporary horror set in similar modern home, but the family are tormented by a German folkloric creature that’s interested in the children set in the home.