Rebecca Daly’s Mammal explores how grief can completely consume someone’s life and make them imprint on other things as a coping mechanism.
The focus of the film is Margaret (Rachel Griffiths); a woman who is really detached from the world around her. She’s a good citizen and very active in her community but she doesn’t fully immerse herself in the world around her. The best way to describe her is someone who sleepwalks through life.
As the film goes on the reasons for her being this way are slowly revealed. It turns out that she walked away from her family when her son was an infant but the film never goes into detail about why she did that. There are hints given throughout but nothing definitive. I’m led to believe that there must have been a good reason given how compassionate the character seems to be though it’s possible that the personality we see is one that developed out of regret for her actions when she was younger.
Margaret takes pity on a young man named Joe (Barry Keoghan) when she finds him beaten and bleeding in an alley and he becomes someone she can imprint her feelings onto in an attempt to recapture what she has lost with her son. This is where her compassionate nature really comes out as she offers him support and affection despite the fact that she might not deserve it.
The relationship between Margaret and Joe plays out in really interesting and disturbing ways. In the beginning it seems like it might be a surrogate mother/daughter relationship but it takes a really disturbing turn as it progresses. I found this change to be really jarring but it does add to the really bleak nature of Margaret’s life.
A big part of their relationship is the implied belief that Margaret can change Joe for the better but the film constantly counters that by showing that Joe really isn’t a good person and has no desire to change that. He also actively takes advantage of her generosity and steals from her. It would have been really predictable to have her influence on him force him to become a better person so I preferred the braver and more realistic choice.
You would be forgiven for thinking that not a lot happens in this film because it is a very slow burn. I found this to be very effective in drawing the viewer into the world and surrounding them with the pain, grief and isolation that Margaret feels. The film is oddly paced but never crosses the line into becoming boredom. A lot of that has to do with how engaging the characters are and how consuming the mood is.
A fascinating character piece that takes the time to suck the viewer into the all consuming isolation of the main character. The two lead characters are well written and acted with a complex and disturbing relationship that goes too far in some places but also effectively shows how deep in grief Margaret is. At times the pacing is a little too slow but for the most part this helps establish mood effectively.