It is the aura of delicate ambiguity that defines Mother and Son as a contemporary cinematic masterpiece. A fragile mother is dying, although if is uncertain whether she is physically ill or just resigned to death after a lifetime of hardship. A son has returned to her side, yet there are few clues as to the location or time. Under darkening skies he walks her through an empty village. In fields of flattened corn he reflects on his impending despair. His loneliness is already evident before his mother dies, while he solemnly watches a steam train disappear - the only reference in the film to the outside world.
Mother and Son has been described as the last act of a mighty saga, where the final two characters remain to resolve often largely unresolvable issues. Sokurov creates stillness as much as motion - the narrative is composed of a series of lingering moments which form a spiritual whole greater than the individual parts. The work of the German romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich served as visual inspiration lor the mise en scene. In Sokurov's words, "His paintings have a very simple, highly poetical and emotional mastery. The dramatical context of these paintings matched completely those of my film... Between a mother and a son there is virtually only one relationship, that of love, irrespective of how it manifests itself."
"The care Sokurov applies to these fastidiously crafted scenes echoes the care with which his characters treat each other - the devotion to detail, the unhurried tenderness, the love. Watching this film, we are forced to confront the inevitability of our own mortality, and the mortality of others. Emotions are awakened within us of a sort that cinema hasn't dealt with for a long time... My initial response to this film was to shed tears for the sadness of things. And its unique pulse has reverberated through me ever since." - Nick Cave