Conflict and Context
Edited by Laurine Heerema
The neglected offspring: Exploring the emotional turbulence between a parent and a child in Andrey Tarkovsky’s Mirror and Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata
Andrei Tarkovsky and Ingmar Bergman share similarities regarding their movies’ storytelling techniques and overall narrative. Even though diverse, the filmographies of these two share similar aspects that captivate the audience’s attention. They both go beyond superficial topics and tackle the human psyche, exploring the themes that might get lost in the modern narrative. The feelings of dissociation, a longing for the past, and a struggle to belong unite the protagonists. Mirror and Autumn Sonata share a unique bond of examining the troubling relationship between a parent and child. Both movies try to encapsulate the overarching tension and the context behind this conflict beyond surface accusations while capturing the complexities of human nature.
The Mother Figure in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror
Andrei Tarkovsky’s movies are known for including maternal figures, among which is the movie Mirror, where the filmmaker takes the audience on the journey of past and present. Even though the mother’s presence dominates the movie, she lacks the protagonist’s traits: her dialogues are dry and lack significance, she does not provide guidance, and feels very distant and unapproachable. Her character seems undeveloped, lacks important dialogue, and is only highlighted by her importance to the narrator. This aspect highlights the overarching theme of the movie Mirror, where fantasy and memories of the narrator blend with each other. The audience cannot connect with the mother or see beyond her exterior or the superficial dialogues she has with other characters. Even though she lost her husband and struggles to succeed in her role as pater familias, she does not hint at internal struggles or even mild discomfort. Through this technique, the emotional distance between the child and the mother translates to the audience, providing a sense of immersion.
The gap and conflict between the mother and the narrator are visible during the present timeline, where they struggle to converse without getting into fights. The narrator tries to remind her of the days from the past when they lived in a small village surrounded by pine trees. Still, his mother does not want to hear it. Witnessing annoyance in her voice, the audience spots the declining relationship between these two. Perhaps the story’s most exciting part is the fact that the narrator’s conflict with his mother translates into his relationship with his former wife. They, too, have miscommunication and fights, and, intriguingly, the narrator sees his former wife’s face while remembering his mother's youthful face and even mentions that he feels pity for both of them. The unhealthy relationships that started during the years of youth are now present in his adult life. While trying to get along with his mother, he simultaneously draws away from his former wife. Perhaps unintentionally, the narrator tries to prove to himself that the problem does not lie with him but rather in the women that have surrounded him from an early age. He blames women for the way he has turned out: slightly selfish and narcissistic. Through his dialogues and memories, it is visible that he does not attempt to see the world through the eyes of his mother. She is a distant figure who should do her job: be loving and caring no matter what inner turbulence she is going through. Even though it is easy to see him as a victim of a dysfunctional family, the movie leaves a lot of space to explore the mother’s image as the audience attempts to connect with her character.
Complex dynamics in the Mother-daughter relationship portrayed in Autumn Sonata
Unlike Mirror, Autumn Sonata concentrates on the present while taking the audience on the emotional journey of the mother-daughter relationship. Lengthy dialogues and monologues showcase the complicated love-hate relationship caused by the absent mother who sacrificed her family for her career. Despite regularly sending letters to invite her mother over, Eva ends up mocking her habits while attempting to portray her family as flawless. Eva is clearly putting considerable effort and energy into making her mother comfortable and content during her visit to Eva’s humble home. She silently begs to be loved, appreciated, and encouraged by an estranged person she calls her mother and whom she does not like. The emotional gap between these two is so significant that, at times, it is challenging to spot any familial connection between them. How they verbally or physically interact seems too ceremonial, as if both avoid addressing the sensitive topics they are contemplating. Eva is quietly struggling and swallowing the pain caused by her mother. On the one hand, she feels hate, but on the other, she wants to have a close relationship with her mother while trying to fill the void from childhood.
The mother, Charlotte, stays utterly formal throughout the movie; even during private moments she is absorbed by her career alone. Observing Eva trying to please her while Charlotte remains indifferent is painful to digest for Eva and the audience equally. It is as if Charlotte cannot feel affection for her daughter.
The plot finally culminates in severe conflict once Eva addresses her internal pain and the conflicting feelings she has toward her mother. During the lengthy dialogue, the daughter blames her mother for all the pain she has ever experienced, including her failed marriage to the person she never truly loved. Eva talks about how she loathes her as she never got love from her and was plainly expelled from the cold womb and abandoned from a young age. She even goes as far as to mention that Charlotte is a menace and that people like her should be locked up as they are incapable of love. And yet, she cannot help but be intertwined with this person she calls mother. The mother’s pains and unhappiness are inherited by the daughter, and the mother's disappointments are to be paid for by her daughter. Eva wants to break free and stop her connection with this woman forever. Still she cannot neglect her and refuses to receive the crumbs of the leftover love and kindness. Eva and the narrator from Mirror share the tendency to see their mothers as distant figures detached from their lives while not taking into consideration the fact that apart from being mothers, these two women have the needs, struggles, and lives of their own.
Observing these two films has been insightful as they delve into complex relationships. Even though the root of the conflict is the same in both films, the way the protagonists deal with the distance from their mothers differs. In Autumn Sonata, Eva seeks love and appreciation from her mother, trying to keep her close and prove that she has made something out of herself and, therefore, deserves love and recognition. On the other hand, the narrator from Mirror does not ask for comfort or love from his mother. He is cynical of the entire conflict while not hiding his wrongs and failures. It seems as if the narrator from Mirror is self-assured that no matter what he does, he will never lose the love of his mother. He knows there is a distance between them, but it does not bother him much as he is sure that his mother cares about him.
Conversely, in Autumn Sonata, Eva is constantly anxious about saying or doing something wrong, trying not to upset her mother, and even after their conflict, where she finally unpacks her trauma, she still clings to Charlotte, asking for attention. It is interesting to observe how the two genders cope with the lack of love differently. The male protagonist, who was raised in a patriarchal society assuring him of his dominance, does not seek, as he was told, that he is deserving of everything. Alternatively, Eva, a woman consistently instructed to strive for societal acceptance, perform, and gain approval from others, perpetually remains on the lookout, fearing errors, constantly restraining herself, and overthinking her every step. The offspring from both movies had a difficult childhood that affected their adult lives. Both deal with their internal demons and try to cope in different ways. One neglects his scars, hiding how hurt he is by the distance felt between him and his mother, while the other is not afraid to speak up and unpack her emotions. Their stories continue, so does the turbulence between the neglected child and the distant parent.