Back when I watched Jeanne Dielman I had the need to hug my mum and tell her how much I appreciated everything she did. Now that I have seen Make Way For Tomorrow… well I was emotionally winded for a while afterwards. Not even the bright colours and happy music of Super Mario Galaxy 2 was able to chase it away.
Make Way For Tomorrow is an interesting film to look back upon some 80 years since its release. Here we have an older couple (meant to be in their seventies, but Beulah Bondi was actually in her mid-40s!) who, due to the depression, have lost their house to the bank. So they turn to their five children for help… and end up being split apart for the first time in 50 years.
What unfolds over 90 minutes is a delicately told story about the older generation are made to step aside in order to “make way for tomorrow”. It is clear from the word go that of their children there is only one of them (Nell) who has the financial stability and the room to take them in… but she does not. For one thing her husband (that none of the family seem to like) downright refuses to let it happen, but you also feel that she would not want her life disrupted. So Lucy and Barkley are forced to separate, each living with a different child.
The mother goes to stay with the eldest son in New York and has to share the room with her teenage granddaughter. The father stays with one of the daughters who clearly just wants to be rid of him. As you can guess tensions begin to build and leads to an inevitable tear-jerking conclusion; heightened by 5 hours the older couple spend together where they are finally treated with kindness and respect.
The thing is, as you watch this film you can understand pretty much everyone’s motivation. This is what makes Make Way For Tomorrow such an involving film. You understand Nell’s husband not wanting to have to make room for his in-laws. You understand the wife wanting to get rid of her mother-in-law as it has undermined her authority as a parent and led to her daughter get into trouble. Everyone in this film is just a believable human.
Without going into the specifics too much (because I do hate spoilers) it is the final half an hour that makes the film. One of the pinnacles really is when the children realise not only are they rotten and ungrateful, but also find out that their father is aware of their faults.
The ending of the film harkens back to a conversation that Louise has with her granddaughter Rhoda. Rhoda tells her grandmother to face the fact that her grandfather is too old now (being in his seventies) to get a new job and be able to stage a reunion. Louise in turn, hearbreakingly, asks Rhoda to let it go and let her keep pretending that it will all work out well. It’s a crushing moment and everything that follows this in the film is tinted by this sentiment.
Being part of the millennial generation means that I have had to rely on my mum for more than the children in this film will have. We see these children in their 30s-40s and it is pretty clear that they left as soon as they were able. Maybe this is why their actions of being so dismissive of helping their parents out really angered me. It’s not that I didn’t understand them, but sometimes you need to do the right thing because it’s the right thing.