It’s Mother’s Day tomorrow, so I’m taking a look at some of cinema’s most iconic mothers, both good and bad.
Manuela, All About My Mother
Directed by Pedro Almodovar 1999
After the tragic loss of her son, single mother Manuela takes a journey to reconnect with her past. Manuela’s maternal instinct seems to extend to all she meets as she supports, protects, nurses and advises the friends that she encounters.
Almodóvar dedicated this film “To all actresses who have played actresses. To all women who act. To men who act and become women. To all the people who want to be mothers. To my mother.”
Mrs Voorhees, Friday the 13th
Directed by Sean S. Cunningham 1980
“Kill her, Mommy! Kill her!”
Jason is the iconic killer of the Friday the 13th franchise but it was his mother who was the first to start killing off promiscuous teens at Camp Crystal Lake. Not even Kevin Bacon is safe from this revenge-seeking Mum.
M’Lynn Eatenton, Steel Magnolias or Sally Field in EVERYTHING
Directed by Herbert Ross 1989
Hollywood’s Mum Sally Field has made a career out of playing mothers on the big and small screen, so many that this list could have been entirely populated with them – Norma Rae, Celeste in Soapdish, Betty in Not Without My Daughter, Miranda in Mrs Doubtfire and Forest Gump’s mum to name a few.
Beverly Sutphin, Serial Mom
Directed by John Waters 1994
“Beverly, I’ve read all about this. Is it menopause?”
Katheen Turner relishes in the role of deranged suburban housewife and serial killer Beverly, in John Waters’ black comedy. Beverly wants everything in life to be perfect, she’s just prepared to go a little further than most to uphold her idea of family values.
Peg Boggs, Edward Scissorhands
Directed by Tim Burton 1990
Peg is the sweet Avon lady who discovers Edward and brings him home in Burton’s dark fairytale. Dianne Wiest gives a spectacular performance in the role and her character, the first we meet in the film, serves as the perfect introduction to the world of the film and helps to establish its quirky tone.
Sarah Connor, Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Directed by James Cameron 1991
Sarah Connor is the ultimate lioness, fiercely doing all she can to protect her son and the fate of the world. Her evolution from the first film to the second is a major transformation from damsel in distress to warrior woman, also making her one of the most iconic female characters in science fiction cinema. She might not be the warmest of mothers but you’d want her in your corner in a crisis.
Norma Bates, Psycho
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock 1960
“A boy’s best friend is his mother.”
Mrs Bates is one of the most iconic movie mothers of all time and she’s not even in the film save for a few brief shots of her corpse. Such is her influence over Norman that her presence extends beyond the grave and has a grip over the entire film. Norma’s twisted relationship with her son inspired several sequels and a recent TV series.
Renee LeBlanc, Tarnation
Directed by Jonathan Cahouette 2003
Jonathan Cahouette’s autobiographical documentary details his difficult relationship with his mentally ill mother, Renee. The film made headlines in 2003 for being made for a budget of $218 using iMovie. It pieces together a collage of home video footage, performances, answer phone messages and video diaries. This challenging documentary depicts an unconventional mother and son relationship that is raw and powerful.
Mildred Pierce, Mildred Pierce
Directed by Michael Curtiz 1945
Joan Crawford plays long-suffering mother Mildred Pierce, who is unappreciated by her selfish daughter in this classic film noir. After separating from her first husband Mildred finds work to support the middle-classed lifestyle her children are accustomed to, particularly pretentious Veda, who is ashamed of her mother’s working status. Mildred does everything she can for her family but her wealth-obsessed daughter is eventually her undoing.
Mildred’s drive to be an independent woman is admirable in a time when women’s roles were in flux after the war, although it is unfortunate that this desire seems to ultimately be punished. The film noir genre was built from the uncertainty of this period as well as a deeply paranoid suspicion of women. Veda fulfils the femme fatale role here, but we are at least aligned with Mildred and sympathetic to her fate.
Joan Crawford, Mommie Dearest
Directed by Frank Perry 1981
We can’t talk about Joan Crawford without taking a look at this camp classic. Based on the tell-all memoir by Christina Crawford, the film details the emotional and physical abuse Christina suffered from her unhinged adoptive mother. While the details of the film are shocking, the heightened melodrama is so over the top that the film is unintentionally comedic.
Rosemary Woodhouse, Rosemary’s Baby
Directed by Roman Polanski 1968
Roman Polanski’s chilling horror film depicts Rosemary’s unsettling journey to motherhood. Rosemary is surrounded by people who control her body by sedating her, raping her, impregnating her and forcing drinks, food and instructions on her for the sake of the baby. Rosemary’s anxiety builds as she suffers through the difficult pregnancy. Her attempts to rebel against these overbearing forces prove futile, however, as her own maternal instincts compel her to accept and protect her child, even though he is the antichrist.
This excellent blog post by Erin Fenner explains why “Rosemary’s Baby is a horror about being a woman.”
Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale, Grey Gardens
Directed by Albert & David Maysles, Ellen Hovde & Muffie Meyer 1975
The Maysles brothers pioneered the ‘fly on the wall’ documentary style, trying to have as little influence on their documentary subjects as possible in order to present them naturally. In Grey Gardens they turn their camera to two socialites living in a rundown house in the Hamptons. Although her daughter, Little Edie, became the real breakout star of the film, Big Edie still holds her own. The complex relationship between these two eccentric women is loving, co-dependent and at times resentful, but ultimately united and protective.
Sadly, Albert Maysles died this month, but his films have a respected place in cinematic history, particularly this cult classic.
Ellen Ripley & The Alien Queen, Aliens
Directed by James Cameron 1986
Ripley is one of the most iconic female characters in science fiction cinema (along with Sarah Connor, mentioned earlier) and one of the most popular. In this sequel to Alien, Ripley’s character undergoes a transformation in her developing role as adoptive mother to rescued Newt. This relationship brought a new dimension to Ripley’s character, showing her as tough and strong but with the capacity to also be caring and soft. It also gave her someone to protect at all costs. The film (and the Alien series as a whole) is full of imagery to do with impregnation and birth trauma. It is fitting then that this film also debuts the Alien Queen, the most monstrous mother figure ever committed to screen. These two movie mothers face off at the end of the movie in an epic battle, each fighting for the survival of their young.
Directed by Roland Emmerich 1998
Yes, this film is terrible – let’s get that out of the way first.
I was a giant-lizard loving 14 year old when this movie came out and I was totally onboard for this one at the time. I’ll bet some of you are asking – isn’t Godzilla male? Yes, he is (although apparently it’s up for debate) although in Emmerich’s universally panned take on the character, Matthew Broderick’s scientist discovered that Godzilla was reproducing asexually and had layed a motherload of Godzuki eggs inside Madison Square Gardens. That’s right – Godzilla’s a Mum.
Who are your favourite Movie Mums? Let me know on Twitter.