Glassland – mutual dependencies and role reversals


Gerard Barrett’s film Glassland tells the story of a son’s struggle with his mother’s struggle with alcohol abuse. The film’s social realism is heightened by Piers McGrail’s bleak cinematography.


The film opens with what we imagine is a familiar situation but with elevated consequences. The son John (Jack Reynor) finds the mother Jean (Toni Colette) unconscious after an extended drinking session, a situation which leads to the consequence of hospitalisation, and finally Jean’s acceptance of rehabilitation.

We view this sadly familiar setup through the eyes of the son but also view the mother as a victim. John tells his mother ‘You’re breaking my heart’, neither mother’s or son’s lifestyles are by choice. ‘You’re breaking my heart’ also tells us this a relationship of mutual dependencies.


The rehabilitation centre is run by kindly Jim (Michael Smiley). Jean is doing well but Jim can only provide seven days in his rehabilitation centre, a further stay in another centre requires money that son John doesn’t have.

While in the rehabilitation centre, moving scenes show the role reversal of child taking care of parent long before this is traditionally required. Or to what extent this is traditionally required in European culture.


John and Jean are not the only victims. John has brother a Kit (Harry Nagle). Kit lives in a care home but John emotionally cares for his brother. John also works with victims in a morally deficient manner, which is how he will pay for his mother’s further stay the other rehabilitation centre.


Kit is Jean’s demons in corporeal form. Kit’s father left on witnessing Kit’s birth condition, so Kit suffers this demonisation alone.

Jean speaks of Kit in a disgraceful manner, her son isn’t afforded the dignity of being referred to as her son, but instead referred to as ‘a thing’. Despite this we find it difficult to hate Jean to the extent her language demands, which is down to Toni Colette’s wonderful performance. Colette’s performance describes Jean’s complexities—we want to believe Jean isn’t this terrible, because the performance shows us she doesn’t want to be.

But as we can see above, there is a happy ending. We can see similarities between filmmaker Gerard Barrett and his compatriot Lenny Abrahamson’s work, and Tony Colette played also a mother to a disabled child in Elissa Down’s The Black Balloon.


John has a best friend, Shane (Will Poulter). Shane is estranged from his son and like John is a young man who should grow up before his time, but unlike John, Shane hasn’t grown up. Shane’s mother smothers her son despite his resistance but it’s too clear this normalised situation to Shane is an idealised situation for John, to the extent Shane’s mother also cares for John as much as she can. The film shows two sides of the maternal relationship.


We’ve hinted at John’s work, which involves transporting sex workers as part of his taxi driving duties. John knows the consequences of his actions but turns a blind eye until the realisation he can’t live from others’ non lifestyle choices to save his mother and himself from theirs. John delivers the young woman to kindly Jim at the rehabilitation centre, somebody else for his, and society’s, intray tomorrow morning.

Reference: Glassland – Wikipedia


1 thought on “Glassland – mutual dependencies and role reversals

  1. Great final sentence on this. I’ve not heard of this film before…but you gave the end away. I suppose as there appears to be so much “not great” going on the director wanted to end on hope. It sounds like the way this film is set up, we are to assume that Jean had her addiction all throughout John’s childhood. John must have lost so much in his young life to find himself caring for his mother and doing the sort of work he ends up doing. It shows that a parents problems are not just an emotional drain on those around them but it impedes all relationships and social development. Toni Collette is a very talented actress and Jean sounds like a very complex character to play. I wonder if there is a possibility that the son Jean refers to as “the thing” is a result of Toni’s addictions during pregnancy. Perhaps Kit is reflects back to Jean her own failures that she need to come to terms with and move forward. Sounds like an interesting film but perhaps not an easy watch when the reality is so real. BAB.

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