Well, no, Nicolas Cage doesn’t exactly “act” in this bizarre thriller/comedy…but he was cast perfectly, and that’s almost as good. Every nervous tick and over-the top bit of scene chewing somehow…works. Just works.
The set up is this: in Everytown USA, someone has “hacked” the maternal/maternal instinct, so that people want to kill their own children. Hijinks ensue. And yeah, it’s damned near zombie time as a brother and sister struggle to escape the titular deranged parents.
What makes it work is the not-terribly-subtle subtext, of middle-aged crisis and the sense parents often have that they have sacrificed their dreams and hopes and passions…and youth…to give life to the next generation. So…isn’t it perfectly reasonable that from time to time you would want to hoist the black flag and make the little bastards pay?
On the backs of this thought, which I’m sure has entered the mind of many a tired, frustrated parent, that an entire nasty little movie has been built, one dappled with gore but holding just enough truth, and just enough real acting, to lift it ALMOST to the level of an art-house splatter movie. I’d give it a “B” for those who have a taste for such things, and an “A” if you happen to be a Nicolas Cage fan.
Watch for the maternity ward scene.
Yeah, I said it.
And…one of the most poignant aspects of the movie is the relationship of Mom (Selma Blair) and Dad (Nicolas Cage). Their middle-aged angst: he concerned about his negative career trajectory she concerned about the loss of “hotness” and a perfect young body. Loving their family and struggling to stay connected, with the first f infidelitous fantasies tip-toeing through their minds.
To watch them infected with whatever strange disease is causing them to turn on their children, and finding some strange and elusive intimacy in their shared mania was actually…touching. Honest
It triggers a call-back to a past episode, where Dad put a pool table into his basement “Man Cave” and is questioned by Mom, who doesn’t understand. And…he explodes into a litany of lost dreams and swelling discontent: hair growing out of his ears and nose. Swelling gut and smaller paycheck. Station wagon. “I was gonna grab the world and squeeze out every drop” he says. And instead of that…here he is.
The road not taken. Savage. NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO, there will be roads not taken, and you will have to fight the urge to scream and dream that they would have been better paths.
But after his anger is spent, vented by violence, he sags next to Mom, and he begs her to understand what he is feeling. And…she does. Because she feels it too. The road not taken. Lost career dreams. Lost self-image as the body shifts with time and children and care.
And in this scene, and in the present-day scenes of chaos and violence, we sense not only the frustration, but the love and connection.
If people are alone, they regret.
If they are paired and childless, they regret.
If they are paired and parenting, they regret.
What is the common factor? We regret.
Just as there is joy, and accomplishment, and growth in life, there is also pain. And most of us feel that we would like to face those life challenges surrounded by love. Most of us feel that there is joy in giving to those we care about. If we were the recipients of love and support, we usually enjoy sharing that bounty with others, with nurturing the helpless, and seeing in their struggles our own remembered first steps.
I remember a television star (you’d know the role if not the name) who once talked to me about why he had never married. “I’m waiting for my soulmate. She will be someone I never argue with, who will always know what I want, and I’ll never have to ask. She’ll understand and anticipate.”
THAT…is a deluded, totally immature view.
Seated in an empty room, we argue within ourselves. We don’t tell ourselves the total truth. We break promises to ourselves frequently. How can we expect others to fit more perfectly with us than we do?
What can we do? We can strive, we can build, we can play, we can enjoy our time on the planet with a partner. And if we choose we can build a business and/or a family or a life of adventurous memories. And whether you do or don’t, you will have challenges, joys, pain, and pleasure. That’s just life.
If you can love yourself, accept yourself, then you will be able to love and accept another human being, with all of their strengths and weaknesses, see your own flaws and skills mirrored in them; sometimes equal, sometimes complementary. Always in a kind of balance. Love makes the experience of life deeper and more meaningful. It is worth looking beyond our self-image, shutting out the voices in our heads, remembering that we CHOSE the choices we made, and taking our steps consciously…and hopefully side by side with a friend, a lover, a partner.
I watched “Mom and Dad” with Tananarive, after a trying day. And when the zomboid parents express the twisted tangle of love and hate toward the terrified children (who put aside their sibling rivalry to survive, another great touch) T and I turned to each other, and kissed. We got it. We get it. This is life. Those emotions are REAL. Sometimes you DO want to chuck it all. Hoist the black flag and follow some hollow passion, sail right off the edge of the marriage map.
But if you love…it passes. It isn’t always calm sailing, but it’s a hell of a ride, and I wouldn’t have missed my Soulmate, or my children, for the world.
Love yourself…and share the love