Over the last month, I chanced upon two movies that weren’t on any trending lists on Netflix, but tugged on a lot of heartstrings in me, especially since I am a mother.
The first, Ben is Back, features “Pretty Woman” Julia Roberts at her rawest — with middle age wrinkles and average, everyday clothes. Unlike Erin Brockovich from her Academy Award-winning movie of the same title, Julia as Holly Burns-Beeby is no gum-chewing, attention-getting character who resolves to go against the oppressive Goliaths of her town.
Instead, she is an “ordinary” suburban mom who accompanies her children to choir practice. She is the thread that binds her racially blended family together. But in this movie, the conflict is not about race. Her husband Neal (essayed by Courtney B. Vance) is the epitome of a loving husband and a fair stepfather.
The conflict arises from Holly’s firstborn, Ben (portrayed by Lucas Hedges), a drug addict. That is the Goliath Julia Roberts as Holly wrestles with in the movie. The synopsis before the opening credits already tells you as much. Away on rehab, Ben suddenly comes back on Christmas Eve and sends the other adults in the family (his sister Ivy and stepfather Neal) panicking. The movie, as it unravels, will tell you why.
But one of the best scenes ever in all the movies I have ever watched in my lifetime is the scene where Holly sees Ben, who is supposed to be in rehab, walk into her car’s path as she and her daughter drive home on a snowy evening.
The mother-son reunion is, of course, not the end of the story. It is the beginning of another trip up Calvary. Many mothers take up their cross not just once.
If you feel like you’re in the depths of grief, if the person you want to change wants to be left alone, or if the person you want to save doesn’t want salvation, watch ‘Ben is Back.’
I remember the story of a mother whose two sons, unbeknownst to her, were drug addicts. Her sons, she recalled, acted so normally whenever they were around her and her husband. Till one day, she noticed that the tires of their cars were getting lost one by one. One tire missing was explainable, but not all four!
That was the only time she bothered to check the family safe and found out that more than the tires of the family cars were missing. And yet her love for her sons didn’t deflate a bit. She gave them tough love and they recovered.
Another mother I interviewed for Gina de Venecia’s INA (a support group for bereaved mothers), who lost her son to an accidental fall from a high-rise balcony, told me that no matter how many children you have, the loss of one is so devastating, the presence of the others is not enough to assuage your grief. Not that you love your other children less, she said, but each child is a part of your heart that once that part is lost, the heart cannot seem to go on beating. But you don’t give up.
In the movie Ben is Back, Holly has three other children she loves to bits, but for at least 48 hours, her heart seems to beat for only one: The absent one.
The entire movie shows her determination to really have her son back, body and soul. Because even if he is physically back, he isn’t really. You will see the web that entraps a drug addict that even if he wants to break free, every step forward seems to set him back even more.
And yet she never gives up. Just like Mary never gave up on supporting her son, sharing in His agony at the foot of the cross.
If you feel like you’re in the depths of grief, if the person you want to change wants to be left alone, or if the person you want to save doesn’t want salvation, watch Ben is Back. In a family sharing the weight of a personal cross, more than one often needs salvation.
You will believe that even if life deals you Black Fridays, there is always an Easter Sunday. I won’t tell you who or what, but someone or something in this movie is going to be saved.
Another movie about maternal love is The Life Ahead, directed by Edoardo Ponti, and starring his 86-year-old mother, Sophia Loren. It was the movie’s theme, aside from the fact that her son was directing it, that reportedly coaxed the Hollywood legend out of retirement.
Just like Julia (who in fairness, is half her age), Sophia doesn’t bother to hide hers in the movie. So, the viewer gets to watch what looks like real life unfold on their screens.
The Life Ahead is the story of a Holocaust survivor, “Madame Rosa,” and a Muslim boy from Senegal named “Momo” (portrayed by Ibrahima Gueye) who find themselves in the same path of conflict, love and redemption in a small town in Italy.
Madame Rosa takes in children of disadvantaged women to augment her income. She provides them board and lodging till their mothers come back for them — if their mothers come back for them. Some children are orphans referred to her by a kindly doctor.
In these days when hate crimes fueled by racism and differences in religion compete with devastating accounts of COVID-19 deaths, The Life Ahead’s story of inclusion, forgiveness and understanding makes you believe in a better world.
One such “referral” is Momo, who once actually snatched her bag in a flea market. But the good doctor convinces Madame Rosa to take Momo by offering her a good caregiver’s price. She takes it, and over time, Madame and Momo develop a bond. Both of them are survivors, after all. And even in the most jaded of women like Madame Rosa lies a nurturing heart. And even in the toughest of street children like Momo lies a heart that wants to be cradled.
The twist in the story is that, eventually, each becomes the other’s life raft. Madame Rosa provides Momo a home. Find out why, at the end of the movie, Momo is the one who, though a child, gives Madame Rosa a home.
In these days when hate crimes fueled by racism and differences in religion compete with devastating accounts of COVID-19 deaths, this story of inclusion, forgiveness and understanding makes you believe in a better world.
Happy Easter, everybody! And to all the Hollys, the Bens, the Madame Rosas and Momos in our midst, don’t give up. You make Easter on earth possible.