Maternal Mystique: Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain Shine in “Mothers’ Instinct”

Maternal Mystique: Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain Shine in “Mothers’ Instinct”

“Mothers’ Instinct” explores the ups, downs and spirals of motherhood



Benoît Delhomme, celebrated cinematographer turned director has unveiled his debut feature film, Mothers' Instinct, adapted from Barbara Abel’s gripping 2012 French novel, Derrière la haine. Fans of Abel's work will delight in this cinematic rendition, marking the second adaptation of the novel, previously depicted in its native French tongue. Delhomme’s interpretation delivers an enthralling viewing experience, promising audiences a delectable cinematic treat.



The film stars two Academy Award winning actresses: Anne Hathaway as Celine, and Jessica Chastain as Alice. Set against the backdrop of the 1960s, both protagonists navigate lives steeped in tradition, with successful husbands and sons of similar age. Commonalities aside, both women inhabit a tightly interwoven existence, these next door neighbors' lives intricately entwined.



This marks the third screen collaboration between Hathaway and Chastain. They first worked together in Christopher Nolan’s 2014 masterpiece Interstellar, followed by James Gray’s Armageddon Time in 2022. But despite having worked together in the past, Mothers' Instinct will be the first film where they actually share the screen. 


Prepare yourself for a cinematic rollercoaster ride that is as bold as it is unsettling. This film pulls no punches, delivering a narrative that is both audacious and gut-wrenching. As the credits roll, you'll find yourself grappling with a whirlwind of emotions, unable to deny the sheer audacity of its conclusion. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.


Maternal Mystique: Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain Shine in “Mothers' Instinct”


The visuals of this film are soft, using diffused lighting that casts a dreamy aura, complemented by meticulously styled hair, authentic period wardrobe and mid-century American architecture, all crafting an evocative atmosphere. Yet, beneath this sugary façade lies a sinister truth—a darkness woven into the fabric of human nature, akin to rat poison hidden within the layers of this seemingly sweet confection.


Warning: Spoilers ahead. 


As we get a glimpse into the seemingly mundane and routinary lives of Celine and Alice, we get to see the bond form between the two mothers who share a lot in common—except for the fact that Celine is much better at playing mother than Alice. We catch glimpses of how disconnected and unempathetic Alice is with her son, Theo (Eamon Patrick O'Connell), and how Celine seems to be much better at comforting her own kin.



Until one tragic day, their shared life is completely shattered when Alice sees Celine’s son, Max (Baylen D. Bielitz) precariously perched on the second-floor balcony of his bedroom as he attempts to mount his birdhouse on the pole. This leads Alice into a state of panic, rushing to Celine’s house to warn her of her son’s dangerous predicament. 


Alice’s warnings are drowned out by the hum of Celine's vacuum cleaner. As the two mothers finally connect, they race to Max's bedroom, only to discover his absence. The heartbreaking truth unfolds: Max has tragically fallen, his life cut short in a devastating accident.



We then see a truly captivating performance by Hathaway as she portrays Celine’s spiral into shock and despair. She grapples with overwhelming guilt, before shifting the blame on Alice for her perceived failure to protect Max. Through the tumult of grief and accusation, Mothers' Instinct plunges deep into the primal connection between mother and child—a bond rooted in the instinctual drive for survival, as old as humanity itself.


Yet, at its core and much like its title, the film revolves around the enigmatic nature of a mothers' intuition. Can we truly rely on this instinctual compass, hailed as a mythical evolutionary reflex for survival? While the movie grapples with this fundamental question, it also touches upon a myriad of other pertinent themes of the era. From the evolving role of women in society to the delicate balance between domestic duties and personal aspirations, Mothers' Instinct explores these complex issues.



However, despite its probing nature, the film ultimately leaves audiences hanging, offering no definitive answers to the myriad questions it raises. As the credits roll, viewers are left to ponder the intricate layers of motherhood, womanhood and the eternal quest for fulfillment amidst the ever-changing landscape of society.


Upon closer examination, Mothers' Instinct grapples with an identity crisis that becomes apparent. It seems uncertain whether it aims to embrace campiness, maintain a serious tone, delve into psychological thrills or terrify audiences with horror elements. While the ambition to encompass all these genres isn't inherently flawed, there's a missing element that fails to seamlessly blend these disparate tones. 


Despite this critique, the film remains captivating, leaving viewers intrigued and eager for a potential revisit in hopes of uncovering the elusive ingredient that would elevate its narrative coherence. Rest assured, this reviewer anticipates revisiting Mothers' Instinct, drawn in by its multifaceted appeal and the promise of discovering its hidden depths upon subsequent viewings.



Label me biased, but there's a particular magic in films that showcase the collaborative prowess of two Academy Award-winning actresses. Anne Hathaway delivers a powerhouse performance, seamlessly embodying the essence of a woman destined for motherhood. Her portrayal strikes a delicate balance between fragility and volatility, captivating viewers with her nuanced portrayal. Opposite her, Jessica Chastain shines brilliantly, delivering a tour de force performance that exemplifies her range as an actress; she masterfully channels a character torn between societal expectations of maternal perfection and her own inner yearning for something greater. Her portrayal is marked by a compelling blend of sternness, anxiety, vulnerability and empathy, painting a vivid picture of a woman grappling with the complexities of motherhood and self-discovery.


Maternal Mystique: Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain Shine in “Mothers' Instinct”


Together, Hathaway and Chastain elevate Mothers' Instinct to a whole new level, infusing the film with their undeniable talent and chemistry, and leaving audiences spellbound by their captivating performances. Drawing parallels to the iconic 1962’s Whatever Happened To Baby Jane, this film possesses all the makings of a future cult classic. With its distinctive blend of intrigue and eccentricity, I foresee Mothers' Instinct ascending to the same revered status. I mean this as the highest of praise.


Audiences will be utterly captivated by the dynamic duo of Alice and Celine. Their on-screen synergy not only showcases their formidable talents but also underscores why they are consistently chosen for such prestigious projects. It also doesn’t hurt that Anne Hathaway evokes a young Jackie Kennedy and Jessica Chastain resembles a young Jane Fonda. They both do what they do best, and that is “to mother.”



Words Charles Boswell

Art Dani Sison


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