“Am I ever going to be able to understand, forgive, and cherish my mother before it’s too late?”
Look at Us Now, Mother is Gayle Kirschenbaum’s look at her family’s angst—especially the difficult relationship she has had with her mother Mildred. Gayle claims she faced so much more criticism than her brothers that she was convinced she was born into the wrong family. Mildred, a stereotype of a Jewish mother, still nags Gayle about getting married and having her nose fixed. (Mildred says Gayle’s nose looks like the Indian on old nickels.) Mildred can have an acerbic tongue. At times we may wonder why Gayle is so intent on showing this side of her mother.
As Gayle wades into the relationship, through old home movies and new footage she film interviewing her mother and family, we see a family where perhaps love exists, but has never really been expressed. The relationship between mother and daughter is still strained at the beginning of the film. I expect that Gayle wanted to use the film as a way of finding some healing for the relationship. In spite of all the complaints that Gayle has about her history with her mother (complaints that are verified by her family), Gayle continues to be in relation with her mother. As she and her mother talk (or at times avoid talking) about their issues, it sometimes seems as though nothing will ever change. Eventually Gayle goes with her mother to a family counselor. We see some how they respond to each other in that setting, but of course, much of the work that goes on in such a setting happens over a long period of time. But eventually we do see signs that there is a bond developing between the mother and daughter that will suit them well in the coming years.
It may well be that the film served as a catalyst for the growth of the relationship, but it is also important to note that Gayle and Mildred were willing to do things that made each of them uncomfortable. I don’t think it was just so Gayle could make a film, but because both wanted something more from the relationship than they had. As much as we may think parent/child bonds just happen naturally, in this film we see how easily the connection can be hard to maintain when not cared for and nurtured by the people involved. It is true of many of our relationships in life, especially the important ones.
Photos courtesy of Kirschenbaum Productions.