‘Mildred Pierce’ (HBO): How to Make a Monster (Part Two)
In Part One of this review, I discussed the ways that Veda Pierce is the carrier for all the frustrated ideals and aspirations her mother Mildred cannot achieve. From this point of view, we might say that there are some narcissistic aspects to Mildred’s love for her daughter: if Veda were to rise in station and become someone of stature, Mildred would regard it both as a reflection upon herself and a fulfillment of her own frustrated longing to shine.
Using different language, we might say that Mildred has some merger and separation issues and is unable to see Veda as a completely distinct and separate person.
This dynamic becomes clearer as the story progresses. When 17-year-old Veda (Evan Rachel Wood), demonstrating all the features of narcissistic personality disorder, feigns pregnancy in order to extort money from the son of Mrs. Forrester, Veda and Mildred have a violent argument in which the daughter expresses all her pent-up scorn and contempt. “With enough money, I can get away from you. You, and your pie wagons and chickens and everything that smells of grease. I can get away from Glendale and its Dollar Days and furniture factories and women that wear uniforms and men that wear smocks, from every stinking rotten thing that ever reminds me of this place or you.”
Veda’s brutal rejection forces Mildred to experience herself as separate from her idealized daughter, to feel herself placed firmly beneath Veda’s feet. When Veda insists that her mother no longer has the power to make any decisions for her, Mildred (unable to bear the shame and humiliation) erupts in a rage and tells Veda to get out of the house immediately. Veda complies, but Mildred can’t bear being separate for even a few minutes; she winds up following Veda out onto the street and calling after her in obvious desperation.
During this fight, Veda also insists that her mother has no right to criticize her for attempting blackmail to get what she wants, insisting that she and her mother aren’t all that different. “Father, Monty, Wally .. you take what you need.”
Veda is pointing out that Mildred may hide it better, but in her own way is just as manipulative and exploitative. One can argue about the degree, but there’s truth to Veda’s allegations. While her feelings for ex-husband Bert appear complicated, Mildred obviously cares nothing for Wally (Bert’s ex-partner) and uses him to satisfy her sexual needs and do her legal bidding; Monty’s aristocratic ways may fascinate her but she also uses him to babysit and chauffeur the younger Veda, and later to lure the older Veda back home in Part V. In a more blatant, unsocialized form, Veda embodies and gives voice to another aspect of her mother’s hidden self, one Mildred herself cannot fully see.
After Veda moves out, Mildred learns from Bert where their daughter is now living and drives by her new apartment late at night, creepily like a stalker. She obsesses about Veda’s doings and can’t stand being excluded from her life. At the end of Part IV, she hears Veda performing live on the radio; the expression on Mildred’s face as she listens, realizing her daughter has great talent, reveals a painful mixture of emotions: at first, she looks stricken, leaning closer and closer to the radio; then moved, as the emotion of the aria comes through; finally baffled and upset, but never happy or proud.
In the middle of the aria, she walks away from the radio, onto the dock where she would have had trouble hearing. Mildred clearly feels excluded from her daughter’s glamorous experience and can’t bear it.
Driven by this intolerable feeling of exclusion, she tries to re-take possession of her daughter and merge with her once more: she goes to Veda’s vocal coach and insists that she, Mildred, will pay for her lessons from then on. Veda has anticipated this move and has forbidden him from accepting payment from her mother. Thwarted in her attempts to take part in Veda’s increasingly “ideal” life, Mildred does the only thing she can think of to lure Veda back: she manipulates Monty into marriage and buys his Pasadena mansion as he’s about to lose it to creditors, thus offering Veda the aristocratic life she has always wanted. Mildred only regains her sense of well-being when Veda makes a surprise appearance at their wedding party and sings.
In the final part of this excellent series, Mildred makes ultimately clear how she shares Veda’s contempt for her own life and achievements by driving her highly successful business into the ground and losing everything, all in order to buy the mansion and sustain a lifestyle that will appeal to Veda; Mildred wants so desperately to take part in Veda’s success that she squanders her own.
In spite of her drive and inner strength, Mildred has no authentic self-respect but only a kind of desperate narcissism that aspires to an ideal glamorous life. When she discovers that Veda has betrayed her in the most vicious, vengeful way possible, forever shutting her out of that perfect existence, Mildred once again erupts in murderous rage and attempts to strangle her daughter to death.
Even then, Mildred cannot be truly separate. The penultimate scene shows her chasing Veda’s taxi down the road, telling her never to return. “Get out of my sight! I don’t need you either! Go to New York for all I care and don’t you ever come back. Do you hear me? Never again! I won’t have it!” Long after the taxi has driven away, Mildred keeps chasing it down the road.
Burgo PhD, J. (2011). ‘Mildred Pierce’ (HBO): How to Make a Monster (Part Two). Psych Central. Retrieved on July 31, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/movies/2011/04/mildred-pierce-two/