Saturday, 14 March 2015

Mothers, Monsters and Mayhem

It has forever been a bother for me when stories are trying to find something or someone for the audience to 'connect' to and they end up going for the same old boring thing, single mother with a sick child. It's incredibly disappointing.

I appreciate stories between mothers and sons/daughters but when its part of the story not as a lame add on. There are films that have the 'mother figure' or the 'mother presence' that is usually needed as part of the main character surrounding supporting characters, especially if its a family drama or someone who is returning home.

 But, more often, the 'Mother' character is one of two beings. Someone who is domineering, maybe even violent, she causes misery, sometimes for comic effect. The other role the 'Mother' plays is the absent parent, events in the story are in her name or her absence is the cause for the events and certain characters behaviour.

A few films are based around a very generic relationship between a mother and a child, for example in 'Anywhere But Here'. Adele (Susan Sarandon) up roots her daughter, Ann (Natalie Portman), to LA in order to better themselves.  Ann can't stand her Mother and says this all the way through even though at times she won't go anywhere without her.

In a twisted way, the relationship in Watchmen between Sally and Laurie is similar. Even though, Sally forced her daughter to become Silk Spectre 2, dressing her up in provocative clothes, forcing her to take up the mantle and refusing to tell her about her real father, Laurie still visits her mother all the time, even going through the transporting which makes her ill. Her mother stole her childhood but she still feels like she needs her mother and Sally definitely still needs her.

There are plenty of horror stories that play on the 'violent, evil' Mother character. One that comes to mind is Carrie. I haven't actually seen the film but because it's an adaptation of Stephen King's novel, there has been so much coverage of it especially with the less successful remake. Carrie's mother is a religious fanatic who tortures her daughter mentally and physically to the point where Carrie breaks. That's just putting it gently. 

 Sometimes its the bond between mother and usually son that is too close and strong that causes the most damage. The prime example here is 'Psycho', Norman Bates (SPOILER) has a disturbingly close relationship with his mother to the point he dressed up in her clothes and murdered people, he even spoke in her voice. For me, that last scene where he is sitting in the cell, is the most disturbing. The TV series, Bates Motel, has run with this relationship, but set in modern day. It shows the lead up to the events that will eventually be 'Psycho', Norman's breaking point.

The horror and the shame the way mothers behave can have a terrible outcome and mothers who have been thought to be caring and loving are actually selfish and delusional. 'Flowers in the Attic' demonstrates the reverse nurturing effect when mothers become consumed with themselves and try to ignore their children as they are 'getting in the way of their happiness'.  Heather Graham played Corrine, seen at first as a loving mother until her husband dies and shes forced to move back home. But in order to stay in her father's good side, she hides her 4 children in the attic, where they remain for years. She barely visits them after a few months, intent on starting a new life. This entire ordeal completely damages the children in different ways mentally and physically, scaring them for life. There is also another mother daughter story between Corrine and her own mother, Olivia. Olivia had always been jealous of the relationship between her daughter and husband and she takes it out on her grandchildren.

The jealous mother character is usually for step mothers but like 'Flowers in the Attic', in 'Stoker', Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) is very jealous of her daughter, the slightly strange, quiet, India (Mia Wasikowska). At first it seems she was jealous of the father daughter relationship, she mentions to the uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode), that they used to do everything together and exclude her. She is bitter about this, especially after the mysterious death of her husband. Charlie, the brother, is also fascinated by India and in turn India seems to have a connection to Charlie. Evelyn then tries to take Charlie's attention away, the only way a woman can, supposedly. But Charlie has other issues which is why he is connected to India, so for Evelyn, this attempt at making her own daughter jealous will ultimately fail.

The mean mother character can be comedic or incredibly serious, but sometimes a serious problem of bullying can create a comedy classic. 'Throw Mamma From The Train' is more about writers and a strange remake of 'Strangers on the Train', but the fact that a mother character comes into the story is important and shows just how strong a hold 'bad' mothers have on their suffering children. Owen (Danny DeVito) wants to be a writer but his overbearing beast of a mother is stopping him progress is every way. He convinces his teacher, Larry (Billy Crystal) to 'criss-cross' their murders, as Larry wants rid of his evil thieving ex-wife. As I said its not really about the relationship but its interesting to see a serious issue played out in a comedic way. The ending is hilarious by the way.

Mothers have a great influence over us and in films, as I said so many films are done in 'name of' our Mothers, particularly revenge films, like 'Four Brothers' that was actually pretty darn good. Its based on the The Sons of Katie Elder'. The four brothers seek justice when they're mother is murdered. This the 'absent' mother character, like a ghost who comes back to haunt the characters we see, sometimes never mentioned but we can all feel the presence.

This feeling can be applied to those mother characters that are no longer mothers. 'All About My Mother' is about Manuela who after her teenage son is killed, is left alone and decides to go back to Barcelona to look for the father. Its an heartbreaking start, but even though her son is gone, he still echos throughout the film, so she never actually stops being a mother.

The 'over protective' mother type is often seen is quiet dramas, where the mothers don't want their children to fall off the rails but this usually has back lashes, particularly in 'The Virgin Suicides'. Kathleen Turner's character is positive she is doing the right thing when it is completely wrong, and her behaviour and rules may have contributed to her daughters desperate needs to 'get out'. Over protective 'action' mums can also 'get it wrong'. In 'Terminator: Judgement Day', Sarah Connor is locked up in a mental hospital while her son is looked after by foster parents. When she escapes, she is very 'motherly' but she has the instinct to protect. The need and want to protect the child can be a double edged sword, trying to do good may lead to downfall, but doing nothing can lead to resentment, its difficult to determine, in each film if its the mother or the child.

To wrap up on a happier note, the 'mum' character type in teen comedies is always fun to watch. They are usually uptight, rule making generics, a waste of space or hardworking and never at home. The ones that stand out and break these molds are Mrs George (Amy Poehler) and Rosemary Penderghast (Patricia Clarkson) from 'Mean Girls' and 'Easy A'. To be honest these two films break the teen movie mold anyway. Mrse George is riduculous, she is always taking photos of the back of her daughter's head and she doesn't really monitor what her younger daughter watches BUT she also encourages her daughter, be in a weird way. She comes to see her show, she brings drinks and snack for daughters frriends and she doesn't really approve of the teens drinking. She's crazy but sometimes responsible and seems utterly oblivious to the fact her daughter is a bitch as she seems to love her no matter what.

Rosemary Penderghast seems easy going and like Dill, her husband, get along with their children, having very easy conversations about anything, even their sexual history. Rosemary, again, like Mrs George, seems oblivious to the rumours about her daughter. She trusts her daughter and doesn't pry into her life and is able to make funny jokes about 'gentlemen callers'. It's a very easy going relationship with her daughter, Olive and its not often that you see this on screen AND it feels completely believable this happens.

My last mention on mothers has to be about the ultimate mother-daughter relationship, Gilmore Girls. I could write a whole essay on this example alone. Lorelai Gilmore is a best friend to her daughter and mother. She knows when to draw the line and teach her daughter what she needs to know while giving her space and time to make up her own descisions. She is supportive in (nearly) everything Rory does. The circumstances that created this close bond come from another mother-daughter relationship. Lorelai and her mother Emily didn't get along because she was the opposite to what Lorelai is for Rory. She forced her into things she didn't want, she didn't support her in the way she needed, resulting in Lorelai literally running away to be free. I know some people are Gilmore fans, I know my sister hates it, but it is one the best examples for the mother character to be explored, there are 7 brilliant seasons to discover what I mean, and this isn't even 1% of what I'm trying to convey here. To press this further, both Lorelai and Emily could be examples of most of the 'mother' types at some point during the TV show. But, that will have to do as I have rambled on for a very long while.

And I didn't get started on these two.

I know there are a dozen more 'mother' types out there but the ones mentioned here are the ones that came to mind. If you have any more to contribute, please do leave a comment below, I'm always happy to read.

Happy Mother's Day!

Films mentioned; Anywhere But Here (1999), Watchmen (comic/film), Carrie (1976), The Sons of Katie Elder (1965), Four Brothers (2005), Psycho (1960), Flowers in the Attic (2014), Stoker (2013), Throw Momma From The Train (1987), All About My Mother (1999), The Virgin Suicides (1999), Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), Mean Girls (2004), Easy A (2010), Gilmore Girls (2000-2007)


  1. Very interesting post! This is such a great comprehensive look on the role of mothers in film. Reading it though, it was hard for me to shake off that besides horror films, I have hard time fitting mother roles in a good/kindhearted/etc. light. There are probably plenty that are not coming to mind, but the ones that do are very understated or supporting. Mothers could definitely use a bigger, more positive influence in the world of film. :)

  2. Thanks! That's what I thought, Mothers in general are seen as negative and Fathers as disappointments or neglectful. I think parents on screen in general aren't always represented well. But you're right a more positive influence is needed in film, maybe one day films will take a turn :)

  3. Maybe except for Mrs Incredible, and a few smaller influences of mothers in animated films, a lot of parents are left out in children's films. Perhaps I'm not thinking of enough examples but I agree films could take them into account more. :)

  4. They're either small parts or seen as a barrier, or in most cases, absent. Most of the time there is a character taking the place of the parent :)