Mothers + sons - "Room" and "X + Y"

I've just seen a second film in a week in which there is a beautiful relationship between a mother and her son. Last weekend it was "Room", starring the quite wonderful Brie Larsen and Jacob Tremblay as a mother and son in a film which is quite rightly garnering rave reviews and awards buzz. Tonight it was the less high-profile but equally interesting and moving 2014 British movie "X and Y", starring the wonderful British quartet of Sally Hawkins, Rafe Spall, Eddie Marsan and as the lead character, an autistic boy genius, Asa Butterfield ("The Boy With The Striped Pyjamas", "Hugo" and the underrated "Ender's Game"). 


Each film puts centre stage a mother/son relationship where the two characters' circumstances have led to the biological father not being able to fulfil that role for his son. Though the narratives are very different, each is held together by the purity and selflessness of the mother's love for her child, of her learning to let go as her son takes tentative steps into the outside world whilst both struggle to deal with a past trauma. Though in each case the mother remains the primary carer, a father figure of sorts comes on the scene and has a crucial role to play in the boy's development.   Each film succeeds in avoiding mawkishness. "Room" manages to also deal very delicately with disturbing, harrowing subject matter (abduction and sexual abuse) in a way that reminded me of the second half of Roberto Benigni's Oscar winning Italian film "Life Is Beautiful". "X and Y" is more restrained, perhaps more "British" in that sense, but like "Room" climaxes with a wonderfully judged mother and son scene that made me well up, as well as a sense that despite inauspicious beginnings, the young man at the centre of the story is ultimately going to turn out well balanced and able to deal with the challenges that life will throw at him. 


A couple of user reviews I read on Amazon challenged the idea that Nathan, the boy in "X and Y" (in the US it's called "A Brilliant Young Mind"), could evolve and develop in his relationship with others, given that he is autistic. But at the beginning of the film he is diagnosed as having "traits of autism", of being "on the spectrum" as is said nowadays, which I think leaves enough room for the possibility of growth. The film is loosely based on a character from a 2007 BBC documentary by the same director, an autistic teenage maths genius who takes part in the International Maths Olympiad and who has since gone on to have a successful career with Google. Nathan in "X and Y" is training to take part in the same competition.   I think everyone watching these films will be taken back to their own relationships with their parents and/or mother/father figures and may finish with a better appreciation of the sacrifices they made for you. That was certainly the case for me.      I heartily recommend both films. "Room" is still on release at cinemas in the UK and "X and Y" is currently available on dvd and Netflix.
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