Alex’s single mother Lee has recently suffered a stroke, leaving the proud, independent woman debilitated and unsteady. To help her out, Alex has moved back into her cramped apartment, putting his life on hold for her recovery.
But proximity forces them to reacquaint themselves with one another, even as their former dynamic has changed. Now Lee is dependent on her son for the simplest tasks, and her son is suddenly responsible for his mother’s health and well-being. Their forced intimacy also dredges up old grievances and differences in opinions, placing them on an emotional collision course.
Writer-director Tin Pang’s short family drama details the sudden, strange reversal of the parent-child hierarchy that many will eventually grapple with, approaching the story with a uniquely intimate focus that replicates just how close quarters and long-standing disagreements can make for brutally intense conflicts.
The visual approach focuses on a single shot — almost initially like a family photograph — that begins in a wide composition, emphasizing the cramped shared space that Lee and Alex share. The camera remains generally wide without cutting, but slowly roams as Lee and Alex navigate the space in real-time.
The direction uses staging to create dynamism in the composition, but with the dark moodiness of the lighting and photography and the busyness of the frame, viewers get a sense of just how cramped and static this domestic world is, and how little room there is to breathe. With no cutting of action, too, there is no “break” or escape, either for the viewer or the characters, especially as a minor conflict escalates into a larger airing of long-running hurts and grievances.
The one-shot approach puts emphasis on the performance and writing, and actors Gabrielle Chan and Lawrence Leung do an excellent job capturing the individual frustrations and yearnings of their characters and the sense of shared history and feeling between mother and son.
Though their bickering starts off as a simple squabble, it becomes the prism into something much larger, more multi-faceted and complex: when the child becomes the parent and the parent becomes the child, why do the old restrictions and assumptions remain in place? What happens when not just the caretaking but the power dynamics reverse? The confrontation forces Lee and Alex to the brisk of their darkest fears and sadnesses — but also to their deepest loyalties and love.
Though it has an Asian cast, “Mother, Child” shines a compelling light on a dilemma experienced by more and more people, in a time where life expectancies are long and the population is aging fast in many places around the globe. The simple fact for many people is that as we get older, our parents get more childlike in the loss of their faculties and health. The feelings of burden, shame, embarrassment and sadness are very real, and often in the intimate situations that caretaking involves, they can spike through to the surface. Years of certain dynamics can upend quickly, revealing hidden cores of regret and anger — but also deep commitment and affection, which can carry both parent and child through this strange, humbling yet touching life stage.