English, Tagalog, and Thai are spoken in Swedish writer-director Lukas Moodysson’s Mammoth, but he communicates only in the idiom of Crash and Babel: the Esperanto of feel-bad humanism. Moodysson’s first two features, Show Me Love (1998) and Together (2000), were compassionate looks at misfit, misunderstood kids—empathy that curdled in his horrifically manipulative third film, Lilya 4-Ever (2002), whose 16-year-old protagonist is abandoned and sold into sex slavery. Unspeakable things happen to children in Mammoth, too, though mostly off-screen—and solely as the result of outrageously overdetermined symmetries between First World privilege and Third World misery.
Emergency-room surgeon Ellen (Michelle Williams) and game designer Leo (Gael García Bernal) romp and race around their Soho loft with their precocious seven-year-old daughter, Jackie (Sophie Nyweide)—a scene of blithe domestic bliss interrupted when Leo must fly to Bangkok on a private plane to sign a $45 million contract and Ellen must save lives. Jackie is cared for by angelic live-in nanny/maid/cook Gloria (Marife Necesito), who chokes back her tears when she speaks to her two young sons, left behind in the Philippines while she earns money to buy them a better life. Thai prostitute Cookie (Run Srinikornchot), lied to and discarded by Leo, shares a similar telephone moment with her toddler daughter. Beyond the film’s blatant cross-cutting—elephant poop in Thailand is followed immediately by Gloria scrubbing a toilet; Ellen closes her remote-controlled blinds for some post-E.R. shut-eye, while Gloria’s boys wake up in meager beds halfway around the world—are its soundtrack’s redundancies (a disco version of “Motherless Child,” Ladytron’s “Destroy Everything You Touch”). Grossly exaggerating his characters’ either/or constructions, Moodysson forgoes any real ideas about the world’s vast inequities, content to pummel his audience with portentous global guilt-tripping.