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'night, Mother

Sissy Spacek, Anne Bancroft, Ed Berke, Carol Robbins
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Epileptic Jesse cancels her newspaper subscription. (0:03)

Jesse has labeled all her clothing in bags, designating recipients. (0:09)

Jesse asks her mother Thelma, "Where's Daddy's gun?" (0:13)

Jesse: "I'm going to kill myself Mama."
Thelma: "Kill yourself?"
Jesse: "... shoot myself."
Thelma: "Must be time for your medicine."
"You're just gonna kill yourself."
Jesse: "I'd rather use Daddy's." (0:18)

Thelma: "... and then you're going to kill yourself. You'll miss. You'll wind up a vegetable."
Jesse: "I think I can kill myself Mama."
"Jesus was a suicide if you ask me."
Thelma: "People don't... kill themselves Jesse."
"It doesn't make sense unless you're retarded or deranged." (0:21)

Jesse, referring to her brother and sister-in-law: "I wouldn't kill myself just to get away from them." (0:26)

Jesse: "Whenever I've had enough it's my stop." (0:32)

Thelma: "Not something like killing yourself."
Jesse: "Not something like killing myself. Something like?" (0:33)

Jesse, referring to her life: "I can stop it."
"I'm gonna stop it." (0:35)

Thelma, referring to her friend Agnes: "She's a lunatic." (0:41)

Thelma, referring to her husband, "I bet you wouldn't be killing yourself if he was still alive." (0:48)

Jesse: "I want to know what Daddy said to you the night he died." (0:51)

Jesse: "Yeah, the phenobarb's right now."
"Best part is my memory's back." (1:05)

Jesse: "The medicine takes care of the fits." She discovers for the first time that her epilepsy started during childhood and that Thelma had kept this secret, even from Jesse's father.
Thelma: You might as well kill me as you Jesse." (1:07)

Jesse: "We could hold hands for an hour and then I could go shoot myself?"
Thelma: "If you've got the guts to kill yourself Jesse you've got the guts to stay alive." (1:13)

Thelma: "Jesse, I can't just sit here and say, 'go ahead kill yourself if you want to.'" (1:18)

Thelma, referring to Jesse's son Ricky: "He'll buy dope with it."
Jesse: "Well then I hope he gets good dope with it Mama." (1:27)

Thelma hears a gunshot from the other side of Jesse's locked bedroom door. (1:32)

This dialogue must strike a terrible chord with family members of those who have attempted or completed suicide. Viewers may wonder whether new information and apparently substantial change in her relationship with her mother may give her pause, but Jesse never wavers in her resolve to end her life, and Thelma, with her Pollyannaish personality, seems to often lose track of Jesse's intentions.

The dialogue raises at least as many questions for mental health professionals who might face a similar situation. Does Jesse suffer from a mental illness? How would you diagnose her? Would focusing on preventing her suicide in the short run sabotage attempts to treat her in the long run? Would civil commitment provide a more than temporary solution? If she killed herself without heroic attempts to stop her, should we hold responsible the mental health professional for Jesse's conscious and deliberate choice to die? Ethically and morally should we presume to question her intent? Should the question of whether she also happens to suffer from mental illness make a difference? Does the fact of her regularly taking phenobarbital contribute to her suicide by this inhibiting her? One wonders why she chose to kill herself with her father's revolver rather than overdosing with phenobarbital. Had she used the drug instead, should the prescribing physician be held responsible for her death?

Compare and contrast with Sweethearts (1997).