You don’t have to be a woman to appreciate the emotional complexities in MOTHER AND CHILD. The film explores the relationships of three women—Annette, Bening, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington–as women, mothers, and children. There are some weighty issues on display in the film, but Rodrigo Garcia’s lighthanded direction keeps the film from tipping over into bathos, while the delicate score by Edward Shearmur conveys the feelings the emotionally stunted characters cannot express themselves.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Shearmur for the latest issue of FSM Online. With a multi-strand plotline, one of the challenges for the composer became whether to give each of the main characters a separate theme or “something a little bit more global.” “What we ended up doing,” Shearmur said, “was establishing a couple of motifs that expanded into themes. The motifs keep mutating and appearing in different guises. Elizabeth’s [Naomi Watts] motif at the beginning eventually turns into Annette Bening’s music. The DNA keeps busting apart and reconstituting itself.”
This musical DNA is the heartbeat of the film. A three-note motif forms the basis of the themes. The orchestrations are light and delicate, with piano, acoustic guitar, and strings forming the backbone of the score. Solo lines give emotional voice to the characters or carry on dialogues that the characters will not or cannot speak themselves.
Tinklings in the percussion remind me of a child’s mobile hanging above their crib, while the sole use of a vocal line at the end of the film seems as if a baby is learning to speak. Because of the characters’ barren emotional landscape, the music remains quiet and reflective.
But as Annette Bening’s character begins to blossom, the harmonies grow richer and the motifs and themes mutate into a lovely waltz. This woman who was once shut off rejoins the human race and performs a delicate dance with her emotions and the people close to her. When she finally meets her granddaughter at the end of the film, the harmonies have traveled from a “static and emotionally barren approach” at the beginning of the film to a much richer place both harmonically and instrumentally.
MOTHER AND CHILD is a score that continues to grow in my estimation the more I listen to it. It’s a beautiful score on its own, but it takes on a much richer dimension once you’ve heard it in context of the film. The film and score are early summer gems that deserve every bit of a mother’s love.