Archives for Family Dynamics
In Rachel Getting Married (2008), Anne Hathaway plays Kym, who is released from rehab in order to go to her sister Rachel’s wedding, which takes place at the home of her father, Paul and step-mother, Carol. The particular scene I’ve chosen illustrates what happens when a parent doesn’t or won’t acknowledge her feelings and/or proper share of accountability and responsibility, in today's terms "owning her own stuff." The child is then left holding the bag, so to speak, of the parent's unowned emotions.
The main storyline in the film The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002) has to do with the relationship between mother Vivi (Ellen Burstyn) and daughter Sidda (Sandra Bullock). I want to focus on one particular scene here [click to watch] which gives an insight into Vivi’s relationship with her own parents (Sidda’s maternal grandparents).
[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.
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):
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.
“Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question” ~ e.e. cummings Like many good films, books or conversations, independent filmmaker Doug Block’s The Kids Grow Up can stimulate our own self-inquiry, leading us to ask ourselves questions about where we are with the topic presented. More than supplying answers, these kinds of works elicit personal examination, much as Block did in his excellent documentary, 51 Birch Street, examining his parents’ marriage. In The Kids Grow Up, he provides an interesting road map of the terrain of one of mid-life’s milestones: when our kids leave home. One of the many questions this film poses is what our lives as parents are going to be like after this bittersweet passage.
Even though this film was made in 1999, and took place in 1969, many of the themes covered in A Walk on the Moon are still relevant for some women and some relationships today. Set in the 60’s, a time of change, this film poses questions of unlived lives, longing, sacrifice, duty, and choice. Our characters grieve for what cannot be, explore new territory, and experience initiations. Pearl (Diane Lane) is our heroine, and Marty (Liev Schreiber) is her husband. They got married when Marty got Pearl pregnant at 17. Both of them have their share of unlived life. Teen-aged Marty’s boss at the time would have paid for his college education had he not impregnated Pearl. Marty’s dream was to be an engineer and instead he ended up working in a TV repair shop. Womens' dreams in this era were much more circumscribed, so that Pearl ended up with a nameless longing for something more out of life. On their yearly summer vacation, at a Jewish camp in upstate New York, Pearl meets Walker, the “Blouse Man” (Viggo Mortensen), a hippie who comes to the camp selling women’s clothing and accessories. Right away, we see that there is chemistry between the Blouse Man and Pearl. We can see his diplomacy, sensitivity, and generosity in dealing with two ladies fighting over one blouse. We find out these qualities are genuine as we get to know him better.
Adolescence is a tricky time for fathers and daughters. The film My First Mister (2001) presents some ideas of how to skillfully traverse this territory. Jennifer (Leelee Sobieski), who goes by the name of “J,” has just graduated from high school. She self-mutilates, is a “goth,” and is alone, lonely and nihilistic. Her parents are divorced. Her mother (Carol Kane) is Pollyanna-ish; the mother and daughter are polar opposites who can’t relate. Her father (John Goodman) is a pothead with whom she has very little contact.
When Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his loyal band of cohorts launch an assault on the Frost Giants of Jutenheim, disobeying his father Odin's will not to violate the truce with that realm, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) intervenes to save them. "You are a vain, greedy, cruel boy!" he tells his son. "And you are an old man and a fool!" Thor retorts. "Yes, I was a fool, to think you were ready [to become king]." Odin banishes his son to Earth and takes away his power, casting him off and hurling his hammer down to Earth as well. Whosoever holds this hammer," he intones, "if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor." While other themes run through 'Thor' the movie (sibling rivalry and the importance of diplomacy over warfare, for example), this scene where Odin banishes a beloved son conveys the emotional crux of the story. Thor's arrogance, cruelty and indifference to the feelings of others make him unfit to be king or to wield the power embodied in his hammer; he must learn the lessons of humility before he can be redeemed. When Odin later slips into a coma, Thor's jealous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) assumes power and the realm of Asgard appears to be falling into darkness.