KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

2014 columns, Film

Bad Mothers

by Rochelle Siemienowicz , May 15, 2014Leave a comment

Babadook

 

The great psychotherapist Carl Jung wrote that ‘one idealises whenever there is a secret fear to be exorcised’, which makes you wonder about our culture’s idealisation of mums and motherhood. The gifts we’re advised to give on Mothers’ Day – flowers, foot-spas, pyjamas and cookbooks – suggest we like to think of a mother as a woman so giving and nurturing, so unselfishly serving of others, that she requires a once-a-year ‘pamper’ from her grateful offspring and their beholden father. But what’s behind this pastel-coloured Madonna-saint picture, and what are we afraid of?

Movies – especially horror and psychological thrillers – have always loved to explore and exorcise our deepest fears, and when it comes to mothers those fears are many. What if the woman who gave birth to us loves us so fiercely she’ll never let us go, like Bad Boy Bubby’s psychotic ‘mom’ who keeps him in a basement for 35 years and uses him for sex? Or what if mama is so religious and ‘pure’ that she’d rather see us dead than have us ‘defile’ ourselves with boys at the prom, like the unforgettable Piper Laurie in Brian de Palma’s teen horror classic Carrie? Or what if mother is so ambitious and unfulfilled that she tries to live out her dreams through us, even if it twists and warps us, like Barbara Hershey’s creepy ballerina stage mom did to Natalie Portman in Black Swan?

Of course the worst fear we could ever have about our mother is that she may not love us, and even wishes we’d never been born. This is an idea that haunts the shadows of stylish new Australian horror film The Babadook. Written and directed by Jennifer Kent, the film stars Essie Davis as an exhausted single mother to a disturbed and demanding six-year-old (a genuinely unsettling Noah Wiseman) who believes there’s a murderous storybook monster come to life in the basement.

With scraggly bleached-out hair and no makeup, Davis is a world away from her glossy Phryne Fisher incarnation. Lonely and sleep-deprived, she’s still grieving for a husband who died driving her to hospital to give birth. It’s no wonder she’s driven to the edge by her son’s violent home-made toys, his night-time teeth grinding and histrionics – which are so frequent that she can’t even get a moment alone with her vibrator. Woken for the billionth time, she screams at the child like a monster incarnate: ‘If you’re so hungry why don’t you eat SHIT!’ Perhaps a little extreme, but such jagged thrusts of dark humour pepper the scary stuff and will appeal to any less-than-perfect mother who has ‘lost it’ in the heat of the moment. (And who hasn’t?)

Another bad mother type – the controlling smother-mother – is embodied in the engrossing Romanian film Child’s Pose, directed by Calin Peter Netzer. Cornelia (Luminita Gheorghiu) is a wealthy and domineering 60-year-old whose only child, the thirty-something Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache) is trying to have as little to do with her as possible – ‘Don’t call me. I’ll call you,’ he insists. But Cornelia rushes into protective mama-bear mode when her son is accused of manslaughter for running down a child from a poor family. She calls in all her political and social connections in her attempt to save him from the law. A gripping and thought-provoking drama that touches on the nature of grief and class corruption in the new Romania, the heart of Child’s Pose is nevertheless its convincing study of a power struggle between mother and adult child. Perhaps the most shocking and infuriating scene shows Cornelia letting herself into Barbu’s apartment without permission and sorting through his private possessions. It’s the everyday violence of this maternal invasion that will be palpable to anyone who fears a snooping mum.

Jung argued there were three essential elements to the maternal archetype: ‘her cherishing and nourishing goodness, her orgiastic emotionality, and her Stygian depths.’ He may have been onto something. While the sun-loving advertising industry likes to focus on the pastel pink mum doing all that ‘cherishing and nourishing’, it’s a relief that cinema can give us mothers in all their variety – darkness and ‘orgiastic emotionality’ included. After all, a mother is just a human being, and even good mothers have bad days – which makes for some very entertaining stories.

Child’s Pose is in national release. The Babadook opens 22 May.

Rochelle Siemienowicz is a Melbourne-based film journalist, reviewer and editor. 

ACO logo




Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

money

David Donaldson

When does lobbying become corruption?

Whether it’s Clive Palmer buying his way into parliament, the recent, varied ICAC revelations of dodgy fundraising in the NSW Liberal party, or the refusal or inability of successive governments to effectively tackle powerful corporate interests in industries like gambling, mining, media, and junk food, there is a feeling among many Australians that democracy is up for sale. Read more »

cluster munition

David Donaldson

How to make treaties and influence people

In an era when Russia can annex Ukrainian territory, when the Refugee Convention is regularly flouted, and when nobody seems to be able to do anything to stop the carnage in Syria, it can be tempting to ask: what can international law actually achieve? Read more »

1560682_10153899026420591_499501666_n

Eli Glasman

Just a number: The literary world’s obsession with age

I used to be obsessed about what age I would be when I had my first novel published. I’d go on the Wikipedia pages of every famous writer I could think of to check how old they were when their first book came out. Read more »

winterson

Carody Culver

Jeanette Winterson’s sacred and secular space

It seems that people either love her or hate Jeanette Winterson, and sometimes that has less to do with her writing and more to do with the occasional controversies she’s regularly sparked since 1985. Read more »

Untitled

Veronica Sullivan

Adventures in reality with Oliver Mol

One of Mol’s recent pieces contains the line: ‘I want to put my bare ass on the cover of my book because not only will it make good promo but it speaks honestly about who I am.’ Read more »

The Tunnel TV review

Julia Tulloh

The Tunnel vs The Bridge: The ethics of TV remakes

A body is found in the Eurotunnel, neatly laid across the border between France and England. When police attempt to move the body, it splits in two with the top half in France and lower half in England. Read more »

1398878478_lea-michele-brunette-ambition-zoom

Julia Tulloh

How to be beautiful, according to Lea Michele

Lea Michele’s new book, Brunette Ambition, is what you might expect from a fairly young television and musical theatre star. Read more »

Mariah Carey

Julia Tulloh

Is she Mariah, the ‘elusive’ chanteuse?

Two weeks ago, Mariah Carey launched her fourteenth studio album, Me. I am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse. Yes, that’s the real name, and it’s hilarious not only because the title is so long and happily shameless but because Mariah has long styled herself as one of the least elusive pop stars in the pop music galaxy. Read more »

lead_large

Rochelle Siemienowicz

On Boyhood, parenting and the passing of time

Since its premiere in January at the Sundance Film Festival, film critics have been falling over themselves to lavish love upon Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Read more »

wetlands_poster

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Lucky Dip Diving: an approach to film festivals

I wanted to let go of the grasping desire to watch everything and be part of every conversation. But with the Melbourne International Film Festival in full swing, anxieties arise again. Read more »

Happy Christmas

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Joe Swanberg’s Real Women

In Happy Christmas, the female characters are a pleasure to watch, largely because they’re so familiar in life and so rarely depicted on screen. Read more »

owl1

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Speaking with pixels

On the Facebook Newsfeed, it’s now possible to click a tiny smiley face inside almost any textbox to bring up a series of thumbnail images: an alligator bawling into a tissue, say, or a whistling fox dropping a turd, or a green owl vomiting rainbows. Read more »

hbo-silicon-valley

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Silicon Valley will eat itself

At a certain point in the lifespan of any subculture, fiction and reality start to blur. Members of the subculture begin to model their character and appearance on the idealised representations of themselves they read about or see on screen. Read more »

inbox

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Death to the Inbox

The primary source of our ‘email problem’ seems to lie in our belief that email is a vastly richer and more capable medium than it is. Read more »

Untitled

Danielle Binks

How to buy books for young adults

‘Excuse me, where are the boys’ books? I’m looking to buy for a 16-year-old.’ When I overheard this question while browsing in a bookshop recently, I felt insta-rage. Read more »

detail

Danielle Binks

Fan-Girling Over Super Heroines

The testosterone-fuelled BIFF! BANG! KAPOW! of classic comics can seem uninviting, filled with spandex-clad men and swooning damsels who hold limited appeal outside the stereotypical 18-35 year-old male demographic. But things are changing in the world of comics. Read more »

9780143305323

Danielle Binks

Australia Needs Diverse Books

The ‘We Need Diverse Books’ team is made up of authors, editors and publishers from North America, but the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag and campaign has reverberated in youth literature communities worldwide. Read more »

Jabberwocky1

Chad Parkhill

The carnival is over

Jabberwocky, scheduled to take place last weekend, was the kind of festival that wasn’t supposed to fail. Read more »

Robin Thicke

Chad Parkhill

Why has Robin Thicke’s Paula flopped?

What, exactly, has caused Paula to sell so poorly that it has already positioned itself as this year’s most memorable flop? Read more »

splash

Chad Parkhill

Queering the Power: The Soft Pink Truth’s Why Do the Heathen Rage?

The Soft Pink Truth’s new album ‘Why Do the Heathen Rage’ demonstrates that despite their superficial differences, dance music and black metal have a lot in common. Read more »

2014-07-03-theleftovers

Stephanie Van Schilt

TV pilots: The good, the bad and The Leftovers

With the wealth of shows on offer, committing to a new TV series can feel like a big deal. It’s often during a pilot episode that audiences determine whether the program is appealing enough to stick with for the long haul. Read more »

Alg-90210-jpg

Stephanie Van Schilt

Sick-Person TV

The only upside to getting sick was the many afternoons I spent curled up on the couch at home, watching daytime TV. I inhaled the drama of pre-recorded episodes of Beverley Hills 90210 while playing with my Brandon and Dylan sticker collection (interspersed with sporadic vomiting). Read more »

The_Million_Dollar_Drop_logo

Nicholas J Johnson

Highbrow vs Lowbrow: Nicholas J Johnson defends Lowbrow TV

I can’t stop looking at Eddie McGuire’s smug, stupid face. It’s not my fault. It’s just I’ve never been this close to the man before, and it’s not until now that I’ve realised how oddly smooth and tanned his skin is. As if someone has stretched the orange bladder from a football over a slab of marble. Read more »