Mother Superior: Screenwriter Hanif Kureishi Helps the Aged


“When I was a kid, I wrote about young boys in velvet trousers taking drugs and going to parties,” says Hanif Kureishi. “Now I write about old women.” Old men, too. In Kureishi’s latest screenplay, The Mother, a 60-plus widow rediscovers erotic rapture with a man half her age; in his latest novel, The Body, an elderly playwright has his brain transplanted into a fresh (and very buff) corpse. “I’m interested in aging, being an aging chap myself,” says Kureishi, who turns 50 this year.

The Body was inspired by late-night consumption of “a lot of trash TV,” he confesses. “Why bother with this makeover shit? Just get a new body.” Within this Gothic eternal-youth fantasy, Kureishi embeds ageless philosophical questions. “It was an attempt to play with this idea of what would it be like if you had a different kind of body,” he says. “Would you have a different kind of mind?”

The Mother originated closer to home, from a remark made by Kureishi’s own widowed mother: “She said to me she didn’t think anybody would touch her again. There are people who go years without intimacy and don’t imagine it will ever happen to them again. Suppose there’s a woman who refuses that, who says I’m going to continue to be sexualized—how rebellious would that be, how wild, how original.” The last Kureishi-based movie, Patrice Chéreau’s Intimacy, was also memorable for its sexual candor (most notoriously, unsimulated fellatio). Noting that The Mother‘s Roger Michell is “a coyer director” than Chéreau, Kureishi says, “I didn’t want the sexuality to be explicit. But it was important that we looked at [the protagonist’s] body without shame, that we photographed her without comment, showing her not as grotesque, or beautiful, but as a person, a living thing.”

Kureishi’s ’90s output includes a film (My Son the Fanatic) and a book (The Black Album) that examined the attraction of Islamic fundamentalism. He says he hasn’t felt compelled to revisit the subject in light of recent events (“I’m interested in character before ideology”), and points out that The Mother, in its own way, is a political film: “It’s about a mother who refuses her role, who takes what she wants. It’s a film about a rebel, or a very selfish woman.”

For all his psychoanalytic leanings, Kureishi says he never considered The Mother in terms of its oedipal entanglements—”not until after, oddly enough, just as you don’t think of your life in Freudian terms until after,” he says. “You don’t think, ‘I’m living an Oedipus complex.’ You think, ‘I hate my father.’ You can’t analyze a script as you’re writing it. You write it instinctively and then you see that it’s a picture of your conscience.”