The Mother

I feel Hat’s eyes on me as we watch.

Anthony Hopkins shuffles in and out of subtly changing rooms which morph from dark wood sixties decor to bright contemporary sleek. He is mostly bewildered, often belligerent, always paranoid (‘Where is my watch? Who stole my watch?”) and frequently in his pyjamas. Occasionally his words are shot with brilliant, sharp lucidity. Often they are acerbic, even cruel.  Sometimes his observations, his recollections (which baffle his daughter) are funny. 

I am at the tail end of a head cold. When I sniff, Hat’s shoots me a sidelong glance. I am dry eyed. I smile reassuringly.

I watch and I immerse myself in Hopkin’s world, one of disorientation, in this shapeshifting environment where corridors widen and narrow so that doors which are apparently in the same place lead to different rooms in the next scene. And where people are sometimes two-faced: so that his daughter presents as her older then her younger and then again her older self and where he insists a new carer is his other, younger daughter.

“Where is she anyway?”

(“Anyway”: a word I hear my mother use dismissively: a tool to minimise the enormity of all this – as if this question doesn’t really matter – “Who are you anyway?”)

She is dead. But this memory eludes him.

He fills the tragic gap with a stuffing of fabrication that I recognise: she is travelling. Away. She is a painter. She is his favourite. (And I wince).

(And I think of my mother’s words: my husband left me you know?)

How can you forget your child is dead?

But you can.

How can you forget your child?

But you can.

I am struck that art can deliver such a profound portrayal of an illness that is all about forgetting and fraying memories, that a screenplay has sewn all of this so tightly together and has delivered to the cinematic a story I recognise so acutely that I do not cry. I do not cry because in watching Olivia Coleman as Hopkins’ daughter I see myself.  And there is something reassuring in her delivery: the unmooring of my mother is manifest in millions. And so too are my reactions to it: the humour, the frustration, the rage, the deep sadness. I feel less alone as I watch. And I feel vindicated in the messy emotions I try to manage.

I do not shed a single tear until the very end when Hopkins says, as he weeps, “I feel as if I am losing all my leaves.” 

For he has articulated what my mother cannot: that she is shedding parts of herself, all of her selves have come undone and disappeared until all that is left is some unrecognisable skeleton in this dark wintering of her life.

I cry then.

Mum and I, Kima, 1966

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