by: Seemi Choudry
Lukas Moodysson’s film “Mammoth” opens with a feel good scene: husband, wife, and daughter joyfully playing with one another in a spacious Soho gallery-style apartment. None of the characters want play time to end and audience members can’t help but feel the same way. You feel nostalgic and wish that you could return to being so easily-amused, in the same way seven-year-old Jackie is. Innocence disillusions both the characters and the audience.
Then, it’s back to reality. Leo’s phone rings as he prepares to fly half-way across the world to sign a 45 million dollar contract for a video game he designed. A night time ER surgeon, Ellen tosses and turns in bed during broad daylight to squeeze in a few hours of sleep before her night shift. Accompanied by her Philippine Nanny, Jackie also goes her separate way. It quickly becomes obvious that while this family is close, the distances between them are slowly widening.
On his way to Bangkok, Thailand, Leo’s business partner hands him a 3,000 dollar pen to sign the contract. The outrageous price is attributed to the rare mammoth ivory tusk embedded into the pen. And the story begins….
Moodysson gives us the pieces to a puzzle and allows us to put them together. The puzzle may never be complete, but with the pieces, we become apart of the plot development process. The mammoth pen is one piece.
While driving down a forestry road in some island near Bangkok, Leo encounters an elephant. This is one of the most remarkable scenes in the movie. First, coming across an elephant on the road. Then, the powerful body language between Leo and the elephant as they both salute one another. The elephant scene appropriately precedes Leo’s newfound friendship with a native prostitute. We soon learn that this prostitute, Cookie, believes in reincarnation. The wise monks told Cookie she was an elephant in a past life.
Back in New York, Ellen struggles to separate work from emotions when her latest patient is brought in, Anthony. Anthony was stabbed by his mother. What mother would do that to her child? Ellen is dumfounded and determined to save Anthony. She converses with Anthony even when he cannot hear or see her.
“Mammoth” never allows us to forget the opening familial scene that left us longing for our own family. The story is about families and how they can communicate without communicating. Telecommunications replace human communication. Leo and Ellen speak to each other with lengthy and detailed voice messages. He leaves a message, she leaves a message.
Gloria, the Philippine nanny, reassures her two young boys in the Philippines that she must work in the US so that they can have a better future. Even Cookie sings lullabies to her infant child as she weeps over the phone.
More than familial relationships, “Mammoth” is about motherhood. Ellen tries to be the best mother she can to Jackie but, at times, Jackie’s affection toward Gloria is much stronger. Gloria cries herself to sleep every night thinking about her two boys. While Anthony lays on a hospital bed, the only thought going through your mind is that no child deserves this. The shadow of innocence is slowly fading.
The movie ends in the same way it began. Leo, Ellen and Jackie laughing, hugging and playing once again. As Ellen leans on Leo’s shoulder and Jackie sleeps on the both of them, Leo comments, “this moment is perfect.” It is perfect, only if innocence isn’t vital to perfection.