Eli Hayes’s review published on Letterboxd:
This is hardly going to be a review, because I don't think that I could ever review a film so deeply intertwined with my own life, so personal that it would be impossible to compare it to any other film. The behavioral problems, the treatment facilities, the absence of a father, the undying love of a mother; it's all a bit too intimate for me to even attempt to look at from an objective standpoint (not that objectivity is ever something to be associated with cinema, haha). So here's my warning: what you're about to read is going to be more of a diary entry than a review, and if I'm going to be honest, it's because I need it. I need to write this. I need to reflect on how important of a film this is to me. And even if, to you, what I'm about to write might not seem to tie in directly to the plot of Mommy - to me, it does. Oh, how it does. My apologies if I don't provide much backstory to some of the names, locations, situations, etc. that I'll be touching all too briefly upon, but again, this entry is one of the few that is going to be for me; because if there was ever a film that I felt was made for me, it was this one.
* * * * * *
The present that I received on my sixteenth birthday was a slightly frozen mini Snickers bar. You would think that I would have been relieved to receive a chocolate bar where I was, six thousand feet in the air on Mount Adams, in New Hampshire.
Wait, New Hampshire? Pause.
Why the hell was I a thousand miles away from home and six thousand feet in the air - when I should have been being a teenager, or sitting in class learning about... I don’t know what they would have been teaching me if I was still back in Wisconsin, but to be honest, it probably would have been something less valuable than the experience of leaving your home in the middle of the night and spending the next six weeks in the northeastern wilderness, freezing, freezing, freezing under a tarp. Crampons, ice, even uncharted territory at times.
I placed the chocolate in my mouth, and like I said, you would think it must have tasted great, right? It tasted like home, it tasted like melancholy, it tasted like longing - but longing for something more abstract like familiarity, a sense of: if I was there, I would know where I was and where I was going. But I didn’t. I was far from figuring it out. I was in the height of it all at that age, and I had been brought to that mountain by the events of my life; some, I had no one to blame for but myself. A couple of them though, were out of my control.
* * * * * *
I graduated from that wilderness program in the minimum time of six weeks but returned to the Midwest only briefly. My parents thought that I still wasn’t properly fit for a traditional educational environment, and I suppose they were right. I was brought to the Grand River Academy, a therapeutic boarding school in Ashtabula County, Ohio. I only lasted a couple of months there until I was expelled for consuming alcohol on campus.
That brought me to Vermont: KGS, King George School, an even “more” therapeutic boarding school, whatever that means - a lockdown facility. And that was my entire junior year before, in the end, King George School was shut down.
We all got to graduate, and the seniors even received their diplomas, but that was the last year that school was ever around, and once it ended, my parents agreed to send me to a more traditional boarding school for my senior year: a school about a about twenty minute drive from the King George School campus, St. Johnsbury Academy.
* * * * * *
High school was the roughest for me. A lot of kids that grow up in small towns have nothing along the same line as the life experiences that I have had since I was fifteen years old. But over the past few years, things have really calmed down, and it has allowed for me to see the brilliance of life again.
After being suspended from St. Johnsbury Academy for underage drinking (yes, sadly another alcohol-related violation), and completing my final stretch of inpatient rehabilitation in McHenry, Illinois, at a great facility called Rosecrance, I sat down and spoke with my mother and father.
“Are you ready?” my father said.
“I’m serious,” he replied.
“No more bullshitting. Are you going to do this?”
“Am I going to do what?” I asked.
“Eli,” my mother fired back.
“You know what your father’s talking about. It’s time.”
“Fine. Send me back to St. Johnsbury. They’ll accept me back. I’ll keep it simple: just film classes and the remainder of my required courses. I already scored a 1900 on my SAT. All I need to do now is fill out the applications. I’m sure I’ll be able to get in. I’ll make sure my essays reflect an even higher level of intelligence than my SAT score, I promise you--”
“Okay,” my mother said.
“Fine. You’re lucky though, you know that, right?”
“Yeah,” they both said.
The day that I graduated from St. Johnsbury and received my high school diploma was the same day that I first discussed how my college experience in Ithaca, New York would turn out, as well as the day my father told me his esophageal cancer was in its final stage, that he was terminal.
He wouldn’t make it through the summer.
He died on June 18th, 2012.
* * * * * *
Death has always been the most overwhelming influence on my path, my philosophies and the way that I live my life, not because of how miserable and agonizing it is, but because of how it hardens and transforms into something life affirming. I watch a lot of films about death, films like Behn Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild and Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful, that remind me of my father’s care but eventual departure; films like Uli Edel's Christiane F. and Steven Soderbergh's Traffic, that remind me of Maddi (the best friend I lost to an opiate overdose six years ago), her struggle with substances, and my own; films like Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher or Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, that deal with the emotion of being a kid and aching to leave one’s hometown and explore, see other things, any things; or even films like Gerald Kargl’s Fear and John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, that attempt to tap into and better understand the psychology of the homicidal, the life takers, the antagonists of our own stories.
I’m a psychology major now. And with my career, my life, I want to make films. I want to explore these kinds of ideas and expand my knowledge and comprehension of the world, both its beauty and its evil. Like I said, and like you know, people die all the time, and though I’ll never understand where their personalities, their nuances, their souls rise or fall or drift off to, I’ll always remember, and I’ll always keep reminding myself how much they meant to me when they were present, and possibly even how much more they mean to me now that they’re not.
I write and I film and I edit and I tell stories because I have to talk about the things that have happened to me. I have to tell people about my life so that I’m not forced to keep it all inside and endure it alone. Maybe others can relate, or maybe someday they will be able to. What I know is that other stories I have read and seen, that have been related to my own life’s path in one way or another - Mommy, for instance - have been cathartic and very, very significant.
I want to speak too. I want my story written down on paper or typed on screen, printed a million times over and thrown in my face so that I can never forget the things I have seen and more importantly, the things I have done - the rights and the wrongs. So that I can continue to convert grief into something lovelier, something better, and something more charitable.
* * * * * *
A shadow approaches,
But the pendulum is gone, stolen.
And I’m left still, wondering.
Wandering, through an underwater city,
I recall my dreams, my nightmares.
Dark hair, soft voice, you knew her.
You dreamt of her too.
You, in a tomb full of night;
Those waves were ours.
For a second I see you,
In a swarm of moths.
But it eats itself,
Of the many afternoons I’ve spent,
Watching light shift and reflect,
Before it disappears entirely.
Yet I cannot be angry with you,
I cannot resent you.
You’re an illusion.
Now, you’re only an illusion.
That I can’t forget,
But that I’d never want to forget.
And you’re pieced together by the sound of others’ footsteps;
A silver hair falling gracefully to the floor.
For a moment, I can return to that world,
Until once again, I collapse soundlessly into consciousness.