Notes for My Son

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
Notes for My Son Movie Poster Image
Dying mom writes book for son; language, emotional intensity
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 84 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Everything feels more real when you're dying. Share your love with friends and family while you can.

Positive Role Models

Maria is a strong, vibrant, loving mother, wife, and friend. Her friends and husband support her through her painful terminal illness.

Violence

A woman goes through the long and painful process of dying of ovarian cancer in her forties. Her young son, husband, family, and friends suffer through the illness with her. Although the law allows what's called "terminal sedation" to those who have no chance of recovering from a painful terminal illness, doctors worry that giving her the legal medications will be mistaken for euthanasia and refuse to administer it to patients in need. Maria is in pain and vomits when she eats. 

Sex
Language

"F--k," "s--t," "d--k," "ass," "piss," "damn," and "bitch."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

As a cancer patient, Maria receives strong medications including morphine for her pain.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Notes for My Son is a 2020 Argentinian drama (in Spanish with English subtitles) based loosely on a similar story of an American woman who died of breast cancer. The book she wrote to leave to her young son was published after her death and became a best seller. The thrust of this story is the way the dying woman maintains her dignity and humor, caring about others throughout the process. This will stimulate conversations about death and compassionate care between parents and kids old enough to grasp the implications. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," ass," "d--k," bitch," "damn," and "piss." As a cancer patient, Maria receives strong medications including morphine for her pain.

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What's the story?

Maria (Valerie Bertucelli) has been through surgeries and chemotherapy for nearly a year when all treatments stop working and it becomes clear she's going to die of ovarian cancer. She remains feisty and cheerful through her ordeal, and her cheeky and candid tweets about dying make her a Twitter sensation, which leads to a television interview and media attention. She fills a handmade notebook with thoughts she wants to leave her 3-year-old son (Julian Sorin), the title's NOTES TO MY SON. Oddly, the notebook is written on screen in English, even though the rest of the film is in Spanish. Her devoted husband Fede (Esteban Lamothe) struggles to remain cheerful, sleeping on the floor of her hospital room, arranging childcare and visits from friends. In the end, as the pain grows, she reminds him and her doctor that they promised to release her from the agony when the time comes. Argentine law permits "terminal sedation," a combination of morphine for pain and sedation medication that allows the suffering patient to stay "asleep" until death comes. But because of the media attention, the hospital withdraws the offer, fearing that under scrutiny, critics will claim Maria has been euthanized, which isn't legal. One doctor says it's a "muddy" line between terminal sedation and euthanasia. Will Maria get the ending she wants?

Is it any good?

Movies about terminal illness, like Notes to My Son, are bound to jerk some tears, but when such fare is also made with care and sensitivity, as this is, the effect can be profound. Here we see a woman whose spirit cannot be crushed by impending death. We see a mother whose love can't be measured, pouring her heart into her child until the last moments of her life. The friendships in her bereft circle seem real. The plight of her loving husband, helpless to save his wife, seems real. And when the hospital suddenly refuses to provide the kind of compassionate care a terminal patient is due by law, the disappointing sliminess of the real world seeps in, too.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how to help people dying of terminal disease through their final painful days. Why do you think Maria wants to set the date that she "goes to sleep"? Do you think she wants to avoid pain, vomiting, weakness, being a burden on her family? Do you think someone in her condition should have a right to medications that make the ordeal of death easier? Why or why not?

  • How do you think Maria's 3-year-old son will view the notes she wrote for him while she was dying? Do you think they will be a comfort to him one day? Why or why not?

  • Do you think this portrays a realistic look at the ordeal of dying of cancer? Why or why not?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

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