Our Mother's House

At the Paris Cinema

Eight out of every ten people who see My Mother's House will despise it. It's full of Bible blabbering, weeping, communications from the dead, and children.

The movie opens with Mother's death. Her children are left unsupervised, and they decide to keep it that way. But life will go on as it always has because Mother, though buried in the garden, is present in spirit. They ask her advice at late-evening services.

Into this congregation walks Charlie Hook, strewing cigarettes, tarts, Playboys, and liquor bottles--disrupting the Mother worship. The children make him their new idol. After all, he's Mother's husband.

But idols have their obligations. Charlie suffocates under his, lashes out at his crew of idolators, gets murdered. This second death knocks the children out of childhood.

There have been other movies about children. But what children! Our Gang exists somewhere west of the moon. You don't bump into Shirley Temples at the grocery store. Once, in Tiger Bay, before she freaked out as Polyanna, Hayley Mills played a child. But the movie, like Sundays and Cybele, focuses on a sexy little girl's relationship with a fugitive. Every other little girl isn't so lucky.

In short--except for Great Expectations, which tells more about growing up and Lord of the Flies, which isn't located on home ground--Our Mother's House is the first expose of childhood I've seen.

It shows how children operate. They have about as wide a range of experience as a cat living in a closet. So they demand an authority, somebody older, to lead them into life. At first it's the Mother in Our Mother's House. A boy picks up her Bible-quoting habit and throws verses at his siblings. A little girl combs her mother's hairpiece like a slave, then cultivates her own pigtail. These same little saints, when Charlie becomes their authority, take up cigarettes and twist in the halls. The Bible-quoter turns purveyor of whorish wisdom: "Men have their vices."

This switch of allegiance reflects the fact that the children don't think. They don't seek explanations, meditate, choose camps. They get emotionally attached and become zealots. Actually they're fanatics. There's a Cotton Mather, a medium and a high priestess in the group. The children take life hard themselves; they make it hell for others.

The director, Jack Clayton, treats their excesses straightforwardly. No tricky angles or fancy pans. His cast--Dirk Bogarde and a flock of children--is impeccable. The only mistake is the music, which sounds like a grown-up reminiscing about a sweet sad thing. The harshness of silence would have been more appropriate.