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Isabella Rossellini Depicts the Sometimes Cruel Side of Animal Motherhood (VIDEO)

Isabella Rossellini's MammasWhat word first comes to mind when you think “Mamma?”

Loving?

Nurturing?

Understanding?

Cannibalizing?

Actually, that last one might not be far off, if you’re a hamster.

Isabella Rossellini, the Italian model and actress perhaps most famous for her role in David Lynch’s classic movie Blue Velvet, has in recent years studied biology. She’s working on a Master’s Degree in animal behavior from New York University, in part because her modeling and acting work has slowed down, since Hollywood is ageist. (More on that some other time.) A creative person, Rossellini has brought her two passions together in a series of videos for the Sundance channel Green Porno, about strange animal sexual behavior, Seduce Me, about animal seduction behavior, and now Mammas.

In all, Rossellini shows a fierce commitment to playing her part, no matter what the role calls for. In one Mammas video, she swims around as a fish — she has a scaly blue body attached to her head — carries faux eggs in her mouth (they look like cherry tomatoes, maybe?), and gets sprayed in the face with her mate’s semen. (By which she’s thrilled, since it means her eggs will be inseminated.) It’s hilarious, and also scientifically accurate.

“I am not a monster,” she says at the opening of the hamster video. “Yes, I killed my baby. And ate it. It was my tenth child, I was exhausted!”

Who knew cute fuzzy hamsters could be so vicious? Besides keeping their owners up late at night by running on their exercise wheels, hamster moms will eat the babies that they have no energy to care for. And who can blame them? The mommy in the video is happy with eight — feeding those last two might have killed her, which would’ve put the whole family at risk.

In a press release, Rossellini said, “These mammas may change and confound your ideas of maternity, whether it’s the inherent altruistic nature of mothers to the great lengths various creatures will take to ensure the survival of their young.”

One of Rossellini’s inspirations for the shorts was the work of evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk, who postulated that while we think of self-sacrifice as being at the heart of the maternal instinct, good management of resources might, in fact, be the unifying trait when you look across species. Thus you get a hamster who eats its babies, or a spider that lets her babies eat her so that they don’t cannibalize themselves.

I would agree that if anything parenting makes a person not just emotionally warm, but also extremely pragmatic. If you’ve only got one slice of bread for breakfast, mom and dad are going to make do with coffee and let the tot eat the toast.

As a father, I also find it refreshing to see a mothers depicted in this honest, if sometimes brutal, manner. Traditionally in our culture, men have been painted as the practical-minded ones who “man up” and make tough decisions. (Think Walter White in Breaking Bad, turning to a life of crime to support his family when he contracts cancer.) Nature shows us that’s not necessarily the case. Moms in the animal world make calculating, seemingly cold choices about their children, and I believe the same holds true for human mothers as well. I’m reminded of The Sopranos, where Tony Soprano’s mom, Livia, ruled the family from the shadows with an iron fist, even putting a hit out on Tony (played by the wonderful James Gandolfini, who sadly died yesterday, too young) when he challenged her authority.

Whether as fish, hamster, spider, ostrich, or wasp, Rossellini dons phenomenal costumes that look equal parts arty fashion show and high-school science fair, and she pulls each portrayal off with both a knowing wink and true commitment to scientific fact. Thought-provoking, funny, and oddly beautiful, Rossellini’s Mammas is a compelling way to learn a little about interspecies motherhood.

To see more videos, visit Mammas on the Sundance channel.

Please note: The material on Marlene Zuk came via Studio 360.

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