Goodnight Mommy: The Twistiest Plot Twist

Hello, all! I’ve been so wrapped up in Christmas that I barely had time to watch more than four movies! I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens yesterday and while I thought it was really awesome, I don’t feel that I have the proper authority to write a post about the film. So instead, I’ll write about what I do know, and that is horror movies! I do apologize, this blog has really turned into something of a horror fest. But anyways, one of the other four movies I watched on Christmas was Goodnight Mommy and boy, was that something. Here’s the trailer, if you’re unacquainted:

So first of all, this is one of the most intriguing and cleverly edited trailers of all time.

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And the reason I say that is because the movie implied in the trailer is completely different from the actual movie. *Spoilers ahead*

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From just watching the trailer, this is what I thought the movie would be about. Two young boys are suspicious of their mother after she returns home after undergoing a lengthy cosmetic procedure. Her actions provoke a sort of war between her and the children, hence the shot of one of the boys shaving a stick into a crossbow  bolt. This premise really excited me because first of all, an “impostor” story can be really scary if it’s well done, and secondly, I love movies that revolve around masks. The first half of the movie delivered this premise, amazingly well I might add, but half-way through, the movie completely went off the rails and changed into something completely different.

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The First Half (on the rails): Twin brothers Lukas and Elias play while their mother is away. When she returns, they see that her face is covered in eerie bandages. The operation isn’t fully explained, but we learn that it is for “cosmetic purposes.” The boys play a game like Hedbanz where they write a word on a card and tape it to their mother’s forehead for her to guess. Even though the word is “mom”, and they give her simple clues like her profession and the fact that she has two sons, she can’t guess her word.  The situation becomes rocky as Mom lays down the ground rules: no visitors, no loud playing, and keep the blinds shut.

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The boys try to play along, but things continue to grow worse. Mom won’t talk to Lukas or feed him or clothe him and slaps, manhandles, and verbally abuses Elias whenever he mentions him. The boys find a cat and hide it underneath the bed, but when they come home one afternoon they find it dead behind the furnace. The boys are suspicious of their mother’s identity. She loves to cook, yet orders a year’s worth of frozen pizzas, and she’s treating them in a way their mother never would.

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I was genuinely freaked by the first half and loving every minute. The cinematography is blooming with color and sleekness, but there is so much silence (they live in an isolated Austrian town) that all the beauty seems unnatural. The usage of the mask is key; they could’ve let it slip or played it too much like a caricature, but they really emphasize the power that a few well-placed methods of disguise can have against facial recognition. Mommy’s eyes, nose, and mouth are all visible, yet the boys cannot tell for sure whether she’s their mother or not. Additionally, Mommy’s secretive, jerky movements make her seem like an otherworldly alien.

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So much about her is human, but just enough is not

What really got me was her emotional and physical abuse of the children. It seemed, at least at the time, that she was punishing Lukas for some unknown act and trying to separate the twins by showing affection to one and not to the other. At this point, I was thinking that Goodnight Mommy was a unique, harrowing tale about an impostor controlling the life of two helpless children, sort of like a reverse Changeling. But then of course, what started as a great film sputtered and died.

The Second Half (off the rails): Mommy comes home again, but without her mask. Her face is still incredibly creepy. She tells the boys that she wants them all to be friends again. They run away and try to speak to a priest, but he returns them to their house. Then they find a picture in a photo album which shows their mother and a woman who looks exactly like her.

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While Mommy is sleeping, the boys tie her to the bed and set up a trip wire around the house. They alternate between interrogating and torturing her (burning her cheek with a magnifying glass, super-gluing her lips shut, just boy stuff). Mommy can’t seem to get any of their questions right. They ask her what Lukas’ favorite song is, but she has no idea (even though the boys play a recording of her singing it before they sleep) and when they burn her cheek, they realize she has drawn on her birthmark. The boys fight over whether they should set her free, with Elias seemingly the most disturbed about keeping her in chains. At one point, she wets the bed, so the boys untie her to allow her to change the sheets. But she subdues them and flees the house, only to fall over the trip wire and get knocked unconscious. She awakens to discover that the boys have glued her to the floor.

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While I was a bit disconcerted by the sudden verge into torture, I was still on board with the movie at this point. Mommy was seeming more and more like an impostor. I also liked the fact that the two boys were warring with each other, the more susceptible one (Elias) being controlled by the most abused one (Lukas). I did wonder at the speed in which the two boys transformed from children into inventive torturers (using a magnifying glass was not something I ever would have thought of).  My ending prediction was something along the lines of the impostor revealing that she had killed the mom or that she was some supernatural demon-type creature inhabiting the mother’s body. But alas, it was not to be.

The Twist (the rails explode): Mommy begs the twins to release her, but they won’t until she reveals where their mother is. Mommy becomes tearful and tells Elias that she can’t pretend Lukas is alive anymore and the accident wasn’t his fault. Elias orders Mommy to tell him what Lukas is doing, but because she can’t see the same ghost as Elias, he sets the house on fire and they both burn to death. The last shot is of the two boys reunited with their mother in the corn field.

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So I looked this up on my favorite pop-culture site The AV Club and I was super annoyed. The reviewer claimed that he’d seen this twist coming within the first ten minutes and countless people commenting agreed that they’d guessed it really early on.

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My take: There are two ways you can look at the “twist” of this movie. Either the twist existed from the beginning or the movie took a sharp left halfway through and it was tacked on at the end. If we go with the first possibility, we run into some problems. Many of the comments referenced the fact that Mommy never acknowledged Lukas or fed/ clothed him as evidence that he never existed. They also said that when Elias and Lukas ventured outside and spoke to the priest, he only talked to Elias. But I think that’s all post-twist interpretation, as in these people only noticed it after they had learned the twist. It can be interpreted a very different way. To me, my first thought was that the mother was practicing horrible psychological abuse on Lukas. I felt as if she was taking the “silent treatment” to a whole new level. I didn’t exactly understand why, but it seemed to me not that she was only setting one place because she only had one son, but because she was pointedly ignoring Lukas. This rang some bells with me, not because my mother ever did anything like this to me (we have a wonderful relationship I promise!!), but because it sounded like parenting disorders I’d previously read about. In one scene, Mommy drags Elias into the bathroom, locks the door, and slaps him repeatedly until he agrees not to listen to his brother anymore. She tells him not to even acknowledge him. Sure, it makes sense that she would do this in an attempt to dissuade Elias from imagining Lukas’ ghost, but it also makes sense that she was trying to divide the boys and was using emotional manipulation to achieve that end. The question of whether the priest could see Lukas can also be explained by the fact that Elias was the more dominant of the two, at least publicly, and that the priest wasn’t oblivious to Lukas, but was paying attention to Elias because he the only twin speaking.

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Another thing that seems suspect to me is Elias’ behavior during the second half of the film. Is it possible for two boys, each egging on the other and using psychological pressure, to torture a woman they think is an impostor? Yes, definitely. But for one boy to do that to a woman who he knows IS his mother is certainly less probable. Elias is characterized as the more vulnerable child while Lukas is the one who urges on the torture. If Lukas doesn’t exist, then that must mean that Elias has some sort of multiple personality disorder or is highly delusional, but we have no evidence of that besides the fact that his mom “reveals” the twist at the end. And if there was only Elias all along, how on earth did he drag his mother all the way downstairs and glue her to the floor? He’s only a frail ten-year-old.

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If the “twist” remains intact, then the beginning of the movie doesn’t make sense. Mommy still physically and emotionally abuses Elias. She may or may not have killed his cat, and she definitely drowned all of his cockroaches. And why doesn’t she know her child’s favorite song or answer any of the questions Elias poses rationally? I think that by trying to keep the “twist” in play, the filmmakers obstructed and obstructed the plot until it no longer made sense. You can have either an impostor movie or a ghost child movie, but you can’t have both. That’s what disappointed me the most. I feel like the filmmakers started out with this amazing idea and copped out at the end to add a cliched ghost child twist. Because imagine how far they could’ve gone if they’d continued with the original plot? Would the boys turn against each other? Would Mommy turn out to be some sort of evil creature? Even by intensifying the emotional abuse, they could’ve gone so much further.

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It could’ve been so good!!!

That’s my take on the movie. I still think that it’s worth watching for the cinematography alone. The music was great too, but I can’t find it anywhere. All in all, it was a very chilling movie, much scarier than It Follows and about the same level as The Babadook, with many of the same themes now that I think about it. Is it the scariest movie of 2015? Maybe. Is it the scariest trailer? Definitely.

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If Lukas is a ghost, then who the hell is holding that vacuum?!

P.S

Another interesting comment thread on the A.V Club’s article was about torture porn, and how some viewers (and many others who had never seen the film!) thought that this movie fell into that category. Yes, there is some torture, but no way is it torture porn. It wasn’t exploitative violence, it was purposeful, plot-based violence. Just thought I’d clarify that for anyone still on the fence about watching the movie.

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This is scary enough by itself

7 thoughts on “Goodnight Mommy: The Twistiest Plot Twist

  1. It seems like most of the people who disliked this movie are the one’s that couldn’t figure out that Lukas was dead early on and believe this to be the big “twist” and entire climax of the movie. There is actually mountains of evidence as early as moments into the movie. No adult at any point in the movie ever speaks to Lukas directly (not the mom, the priest, the grocery delivery driver, the folks at red cross etc.) no one ever physically interacts with Lukas except Elias either. (The scene where Lukas is vacuuming is easily explained with a shot moments later of the vacuum laying on the floor still on. Perhaps the mother looks at Elias suspiciously because the vacuum is on and he is standing in the doorway instead of using it.) there is even a moment in the very beginning of the film where Elias is in the lake calling out for Lukas and hears no response. It seems here we are catching a glimpse of a passing moment of clarity, maybe this is the only moment in the film where Elias does understand that his brother is gone. I think it is purposefully easy to pick up on the fact that Lukas is actually dead. It is understood by the audience that we are viewing this world through Elias’ eyes and therefor will never be told flat out that Lukas is dead, until the “mother” reveals it. I think it is deliberately this way because the real crux of the story has nothing to do with Lukas being dead.
    This movie poses many questions. And the real twists in the film are never actually answered.
    1. Is the mother their real mother or not? There is evidence that she is their real mother, and is just grieving (however destructively). But there are a few questions that are too nagging to ignore. At the beginning of the movie when the “three” of them are playing the guessing game, why can the mother not guess that she is the person Elias wrote on her forehead? And why is she unable to convince the boys that she is their mother? Why doesn’t she talk about something they did together as a family, or her likes and dislikes, the boys’ likes and dislikes? 2. We also see two large pieces of art hanging in the house. They both appear to be of a woman, but are both blurry. Is this a clue that the mother is not really who she says she is? Is this a function of Elias’ dreams that weave in and out throughout the film? And if so, does that mean that what appears to be real might also just be Elias’ dream? At the end of the film when Elias is holding a candle, about to set the house to flames killing his mother and possibly himself, he takes on the same pose as the blurry image hanging on the wall. How we interpret this artwork has thus been linked to how we interpret Elias in this moment.
    3. How did Lukas die? The mother tells Elias that it is not his fault. But is it Elias’ fault? Did Elias kill his brother the way he is about to kill his mother? Might Elias have also killed the cat who they call Leo? And is that why their mother couldn’t see Leo even though he clearly stepped out of his hiding place while she was in the room- not to mention the fact that the cat did not look well and was found in a tomb.
    4. Who does kill the mom? The ghost of Lukas who is very truly possessing Elias, or Elias whose grief has sent him into a psychotic break in which he is hallucinating his brother? Is he so incapable of handling his brother’s death that his mother’s choice to no longer pretend he exists is what ultimately gets her killed?

    This movie is not about learning that one of the main characters is dead the whole time. This movie is about the psychological torment of grief, how you can no longer recognize someone you once loved so much that it would be less painful if they were only alive in your memories. It’s about being told a story by a psychotic narrator and not knowing if what you are being shown actually exists at all.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment! I definitely think I need to give this movie another try, because when I first watched it, I thought it was illogical. I loved their second film The Lodge, so I’ll definitely give this one another chance.

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    2. But there are a few questions that are too nagging to ignore. At the beginning of the movie when the “three” of them are playing the guessing game, why can the mother not guess that she is the person Elias wrote on her forehead?

      The reason is very simple: Her mother asked for help and Elias told her she had two children. However, he has only one child. 🙂 Only Elias sees Lukas and his mother has stopped playing a game in which she prepares food and clothes for both Elias and Lukas.

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    3. I am one of those people who didn’t realize the brother was dead until near the end of the movie. I think it was better seeing it from that perspective. I then got to re-watch it from the other angle which was also good. I will say that I was kicking myself at the end of this movie the first time I watched it. I am someone who figured out the Sixth Sense (spoiler alert) right from the beginning which is a movie that seemed to surprise so many people. However, this twist somehow snuck passed me. Part of it may have been that I watched this one evening while I was feeling tired. However, I think much of it depends upon your frame of mind going into the movie. I guessed the Sixth Sense because it was a movie about a kid who can talk to dead people. I’m then subconsciously thinking about ghosts and perhaps questioning whether a character is one. I came into this movie with a blank slate. I just saw it as a recommended movie with a storyline about a bandaged woman coming home from the hospital and her twin boys suspecting she might be an imposter. It sounded like an interesting plot, so I watched it. I had no other information. I had not seen the trailer. If I had, I think I may have figured out the twist as well. No, it doesn’t give away the twist, but it shows a bunch of supernatural occurrences. It also shows the boys wearing scary masks and having weapons. This puts you in a completely different frame of mind when going into the movie. You are looking for ghosts. You are looking at the kids suspiciously. I was not. I wasn’t expecting anything supernatural. I wasn’t expecting the twins to be anything other than regular kids. My complete attention was devoted to trying to figure out who was pretending to be mother, why would she do it and what happened to the real mother. In fact, I think it was my laser focus on the mother that distracted my attention away from the kids.

      I think the scene where many figure out the twist is the “juice” scene. That is the scene where I’m kicking myself, because I found it strange at the time that the boy was whispering to his brother. However, in my defense, at this point in the movie, Lukas had not said a single word, even to Elias. I took it as the boy was an introvert and that he often let his more extroverted brother speak for him. That does sometimes happen in real life. The scene also ends with Elias telling Lukas that “maybe you should apologize”. Lukas doing something wrong, perhaps causing the accident that put the mother in the hospital, provided a possible explanation as to why the mother was giving him the cold shoulder and not giving him juice without him directly asking for it.

      Many also feel the twist was obvious because no adults hear Lukas talking. Maybe my eyesight is going, but I couldn’t distinguish physically between the two brothers. As such, I didn’t realize that it was the same brother talking to the mom in every scene. For all I knew, it was Lukas with the sticky note on his head in the guessing game scene. I didn’t distinguish between the two kids. The kids being identical twins made the twist much more difficult to detect than in the Sixth Sense movie where I could see no one was talking to the Bruce Willis character.

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  2. As far as your questions, I will try to answer them:

    1. I have no doubts that the mother is the real mother. In the guessing game, she has trouble guessing the person is herself because the clue is a tv hostess with two kids. She only has one kid. Lukas is dead. As for not rattling off a list of memories to prove she is the mother, I would consider it a plot hole. From a story perspective, it would have made it too obvious to audiences that she was the real mother if the character did that. The directors wanted to keep it a mystery as long as possible. If I were a lawyer having to defend this movie, I would probably make arguments that the mother is a bad communicator, she’s under extreme stress (if you’re referring to the bedroom or living room scenes) and/or she doesn’t think it will do any good because Elias’s real issue isn’t her identity, it’s that the mother won’t accept Lukas as real.

    2. I didn’t read much into the artwork. I just accepted the blurriness as an artistic choice by a foreign film maker. Perhaps they thought it was creepier. It would make sense to blur the photographs in order to not give away the mother’s appearance and maybe they felt that they had to do it to all art for consistency purposes. I see no reason to suspect the movie was a dream.

    3. Lukas drowned in a scene just before the opening title. They appear to be playing a game of who can hold their breath the longest under the water. You see bubbles coming up from under the water which represent Lukas’s last breath. Elias in no way killed his brother. It was an accident. However, he feels responsible for not recognizing that Lukas was drowning until it was too late. As far as the cat, this is one of my biggest remaining questions. I’m confident that the mother didn’t do it which leaves Elias/Lukas. Lukas has a motive in that he wants to blame it on the mom in order to turn Elias against her. The problem is that since Lukas is imaginary, why doesn’t Elias remember it? Did Elias have a blackout while the Lukas persona did it? I guess it must, but it feels inconsistent with the rest of movie as I don’t see any other instances where Elias doesn’t know what Lukas is doing. I would point out that some theorize the cat is imaginary, but I don’t subscribe to it because the mom clearly reacts to the dead cat in the aquarium. Why would she be upset over an empty aquarium? I’ve also heard a theory that Elias found a dead cat and just imagined that it was alive. That’s a possibility, but it still requires Elias to have a blackout during the time Lukas is hiding the dead cat.

    4. There is no ghost or possession. Lukas is a figment of Elias’s imagination due to him not wanting to lose his brother/best friend and he also suffers from guilt over feeling responsible for his death. You could say the Lukas persona starts the fire, but again, he’s imaginary, so it’s really Elias doing it. If you look at it, Elias has to move right next to Lukas for the fire to start. Lukas can’t start a fire with Elias in the middle of the room because Lukas isn’t real. The mother no longer wanting to pretend that Lukas is alive is the whole focus of the movie, the reason the twins think she is an imposter, and the reason she is ultimately killed.

    Any other questions? 🙂

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    1. Good answers! I really need to rewatch this movie, it’s been 6 years since I first watched it and my perspective on horror movies and movies in general has evolved a lot since then. I’ll have to see if I feel differently about it upon rewatching it after already knowing the twist.

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