Beautifully realized, exquisitely detailed film directed by George Stevens I Remember Mama tells of a Norwegian family living in San Francisco during the beginning of this century. It is an old classical movie, based on Kathryn Forbes? novel titled Mama?s Bank Account. The film is rendered and it is a moving act of memory about how an immigrant family copes with poverty and how they try to overcome the odds of living in a foreign country. I could identify with almost every scene in the movie and not because of the era but because of the feelings it provoked. There was so much warmth, so much hope and yet it wasn’t the “perfect” family, it was just people living life on life’s terms.
“We don’t want to go to the Big Bank.” This is what Mama will say when they have a bill that they need to settle. Everyone will then think of something that they can do to help to get the bill paid. The children have always think that their parents have a bank account and that they have plenty of money but little do they know that if there is exactly Mama?s bank account or have their parent ever been inside the bank.
Martha Janssen, who plays the key role in this story as ?Mama? is a dominant member in her family but also very gentle and practical as well at the same time. Her family, which has just migrated from their homeland, Norway is poor and she has to keep detailed in pennywise household budget to survive from moving out of their rented apartment. In order to make things easier, they remained close and together, each member of the Janssen family makes his or her sacrifice. Through this, they display an apparent love for each other.
In the beginning of the movie, while Martha is counting the day?s income together with her family on the usual round table, the eldest son, Nels announces his intention to further his studies. With barely enough money, she sacrifices her plan to buy the winter coat that she has been longing for so that Nels will be able to fulfill his dream to become a doctor. Despite the hardship they face, the family is always there for each other. Papa Janssen and Martha have always respect and encouraged the decision of their four children individuals? dreams. When later, the children found out that there was actually no such thing as Mama?s bank account they were astonished. This time Martha was feeling in despair, which was done, so as supposed to honor a dignity for their education, and to let the children felt secured with their presence, was later found out.
When Katrin asked why she wants to pretend to them that there was a bank account. ?It?s not good for little ones not to feel secured.? Martha?s reply. Papa Janssen and Martha apparently used to tell their children that they have a bank account and will be used during emergencies only. However the closest thing that comes to a bank account is the little tin box where Martha keeps the family?s treasure.
Despite the depression in their lives, they still manage to pull together by unity and strength within the family circle through courage and determination within one another. One example of this was when Janssen?s eldest daughter, Katrin receives a rejection letter for one of her stories. Fortunately, Papa has just seen an article about a famous writer, Florence Dana Moorehead and Martha without any doubt goes to meet the writer and exchanges few recipes of hers for advice. Martha gives Katrin the writer’s advice: write what you know. But Katrin was in forlornness shape of who to write about. Although Martha suggests writing about Papa, Katrin gets an idea of who she wants to write then. She sends off a story and in the very next scene, it’s being published. The money now can buy a warm coat for Mama, Martha. For the first time since they migrated, the family doesn?t have to struggle as hard as before anymore. You can tell it was truly a labor of love for all concerned. Instead they put in enough vinegar to nicely counteract the sugar.
One could also observe that the mother is both a links to the past and to the ‘old country,’ while she also plays a key role in making the children into Americans by teaching them important civic lessons. Sometimes, so often thing happens in life, less than noble motives produce great beauty. I remember Mama idealizes (white) immigrants by showing how they avoid these extremes. Maternal images play a key role because it is the image of selfless maternal sacrifice which organizes the story of becoming a good, hardworking, charitable capitalist while avoiding excessive greed and hedonism. Since Martha, the mother was born in Norway, she had to become a citizen, but since she gave birth to her children in America, they are citizens automatically. Nevertheless, the film presents the children’s upbringing and growth in ways that connect closely with ideas about American society: they may be citizens by birth, but the mental habits must be taught. Not to mention, the mother figure is the patron saint in a secular American ideology. Thus, one is touched by the daughter’s big dreams. With mama?s love Katrin was able to be persue her dreams by being a writer.