Archives for September, 2011
[This is a continuation of the exploration of mother and daughter relationships - for prior posts, click here and here] Woody Allen’s film Alice (1990) is a kind of heroine’s journey. In it, Alice (Mia Farrow), married to a wealthy attorney, goes to Chinese herbalist Dr. Yang for help with a bad back. More than just curing the symptom, the doctor, through his various elixirs, helps Alice explore hidden parts of her psyche. [For a more detailed analysis of the whole film, click here] The scene that I focus on below exemplifies a daughter’s idealization of her mother. In it, Alice meets her “Muse” (Bernadette Peters) who, in trying to find subject matter for Alice to write about, shows her the objective truth about her mother.
I've been laughing myself silly all week, listening to the soundtrack (and watching YouTube videos) of the Tony Award-winning musical, The Book of Mormon. Its book, music and lyrics were written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (of South Park fame) in collaboration with Robert Lopez, co-author and director of another successful Broadway musical, Avenue Q. While the melodies may be a bit generic, they're catchy and memorable; it's the lyrics that truly stand out, however. Profane and irreverent, they shed light on some of the more absurd aspects of Mormon theology. They also expose the type of guidance offered by the Church of the Latter Day Saints to members struggling with cognitive dissonance, as well as feelings they find unacceptable.
Further exploring various dynamics of the mother and daughter relationship [For the first part in this series click here], we’ll have a look at a scene from Postcards from the Edge (1990). This film is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Carrie Fisher (daughter of actress Debbie Reynolds). Suzanne Vale (Meryl Streep) plays the addiction-prone actress daughter of movie star Doris Mann (Shirley Maclaine). Doris is portrayed as overbearing, controlling, manipulative, competitive, narcissistic and self-absorbed; Suzanne is very much in her shadow. In a particular scene towards the end of the film [click here to watch], Suzanne is doing a voice-over for a film she’s just made. She has a heart-to-heart conversation with her director, fatherly Lowell (Gene Hackman):
I'd heard so much negative buzz about The Beaver (starring Mel Gibson and directed by Jodie Foster) that I stayed away from my local movie theater despite the film's interesting psychological subject matter. This past week, I finally saw it on DVD and was surprised to find myself appreciating it much more than I'd expected. While there's some truth to the criticism I've heard, The Beaver tackles a difficult subject -- suicidal depression -- with psychological insight and emotional honesty. It scorns the simplistic answers offered by pop psychology and rejects the widely propagated medical lie that depression results from a chemical imbalance in the brain. The film doesn't really try to explain depression (although it offers some interesting hints as to its origins), or offer a solution that leads to the happy ending. Instead, it explores a peculiar form of splitting, a desperate attempt to "cure" depression when all else fails.
In this next series of posts, I’m going to take scenes from a number of films to explore various aspects of mother-daughter relationships. It can be helpful to take stock of how we were mothered, how we’ve complied with and/or rebelled against the woman who raised us (or was supposed to and didn’t). Also it is useful to identify the beliefs and messages that get handed down to us, often coming down through generations. Not only can these realizations help point the way to our own individuation (becoming fully ourselves), it can also help us to not pass on our “family legacies” unconsciously. Mothers can give too much, too little, or both in different areas; they can be on a spectrum anywhere from smothering or engulfment to neglect or abandonment. A “good enough” mother is somewhere in the middle. No one gets it perfect. Furthermore, what is optimal mothering for one child is not for another, and what feelings and behavior get evoked in the mother can be different from child to child. Here is a partial list of types of mothers (I’m sure you can come up with more of your own!), and of course there can be more than one of these running in the same person:
Rebecca Miller’s The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005) presents an intimate look at how father-daughter relationships can cross the line into covert or emotional incest. Rose (Camilla Belle) is the 16-year old daughter of terminally ill Jack (Daniel Day-Lewis). They have been living in isolation, just the two of them, on a small island, the site of a failed commune; Rose’s mother had long since left. From the start, we get the feeling of a complicit, intimate, and closed system between father and daughter. Not only has Rose taken the role of “wife” in the household, but having home-schooled her, Jack has shut her off from developing relationships with others.
If you're a fan of 19th century fiction like me, you've no doubt read Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and seen one of the many fine film and TV adaptations. The first such version was a silent film released in 1910, with eight or nine more to follow before the classic Orson Welles - Joan Fontaine film from 1944. Many other movie and TV adaptations have been made since then, some memorable, others not so much; but this latest version with Mia Wasikowska in the title role is a superb rendition of the classic tale. Both Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender as Rochester give stand-out performances; the direction by Cary Fukunaga is superb. Many important themes run throughout the novel Jane Eyre, and some of them make it onto the large or small screen: atonement and forgiveness, feminism, the search for home and family. The story also includes many vivid psychological portraits, rich in insight; I could discuss any one of them, but instead, I'd like to talk about its view of mental illness. It's a small part of the story but fascinating from a historical perspective. We live in an age where people commonly discuss the roots of emotional difficulties in childhood, and how family patterns of communication shape our psychology; it's easy to forget that 150 years ago, people thought quite differently.