Motherhood and the pro-life message of Mamma Mia 2
Editor’s note: This review contains spoilers
One of the highlights of my summer, without a doubt, was a two-hour ode to ABBA. Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again was everything I hoped for and more. It is an almost ridiculously happy movie, and it carries an infectious joy. Even a decade after the original Meryl Streep centered film, Mamma Mia 2 manages to pick up where the first left off and far surpasses its predecessor in real emotional depth.
Mamma Mia 2 walks a precarious line between prequel and sequel. Amanda Seyfried reprises her role as Sophie, the daughter of Donna Sheridan (Meryl Streep) in what resembles 2018. Set decades earlier, Lily James stars as a young Donna. The film often cuts between the two casts; Sophie is reopening a hotel on the island and grappling with the loss of her mother, while young Donna leaves Oxford to explore the world. The production juggles this gracefully; it felt complete, entertaining, and necessary. The prequel is compelling and captivating, and the sequel is also enjoyable and carries a story to completion. But Mamma Mia 2 doesn’t work because of the reprised ABBA songs or synchronized dances. It shines because it is centered unapologetically around the relationship between a mother and her daughter.
There are admittedly issues with morality in Mamma Mia. The problem Sophie faces in the first film centers around her not knowing who her biological father is since Donna had been with three men in a small window of time. In the sequel, this isn’t downplayed or discouraged; there are three ABBA songs centered around Donna’s encounters with each of the three potential fathers. But despite the admittedly troubling glorification of casual sexual encounters, Mamma Mia 2 manages to create a clear pro-life message about the heroic love of a mother in the most difficult of situations.
When Donna discovers she is pregnant, there is no talk of aborting the child. There is no question of whether or not she can handle it at her young age, or that she is not in a financial position to support the child. Instead, she is strengthened by the unborn child she carries. She was never alone, Sophie says in the sequel, because she had her daughter. Further, the movie demonstrates the power of a community rallying around a woman in need. It is a local islander, Sophia, who cares for Donna in her labor (and presumably cared for the baby after that). Donna finds a place to raise her child in a community built on love.
Perhaps the most beautiful scene in Mamma Mia 2 comes near its closing. Sophie has gathered her family and loved ones together to celebrate the baptism of her son, and simultaneously, we are shown Sophie’s own baptism in that same church decades earlier. As a young Donna walks down the aisle cradling her daughter, surrounded by the loved ones, she sings:
“I’ve never felt this strong / I’m invincible, how could this go wrong? / No, here, here’s where we belong / I see a road ahead / I never thought I would dare to tread.”
Donna’s life is not over because she has her daughter. Instead, she finds strength in motherhood, and she discovers a love she never knew she was capable of.
“I held you close to me / Felt your heartbeat / And I thought: I am free.”
It is in loving someone with the kind of complete, heroic, and unconditional love of a mother that Donna discovers the meaning of the freedom she had been seeking by running away from her life, and she finds it not in isolation, but in loving her child enough to give her entire life to her. It is not a burden to be asked to give in this kind of entirely self-sacrificial way: it is a gift.
Early in the film, Skye (Sophie’s boyfriend) reminds Sophie that she doesn’t have to “dedicate her life” to the hotel. Sophie responds: “She [Donna] dedicated hers to me.” Perhaps that is what motherhood is: dedicating a life to your children in love, not in any way contingent on a child’s timing or gifts but on human dignity alone. Motherhood then becomes looking at a child, whether born or unborn and saying the words Donna Sheridan does to her beloved daughter: “you will be my love and my life.”
Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again, is an absolute joy of a movie, but also (however intentionally) tells a story that is distinctly pro-life and pro-motherhood. In a culture of death, Mamma Mia 2 demonstrates what it means to build a culture and family of life, and shows us the distinct, complete, and heroic love of a mother.
Maggie Garnett is a freshman studying Theology and Constitutional Studies. You can find her at all three of the SUB showings of Mamma Mia 2 the weekend of October 5th, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.