Advertisement

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




anchorpoint_cover-hi-res-2

James Tierney

Unblinkingly Into Harsh Terrain: Alice Robinson’s Anchor Point

The Australian landscape is much traversed in our national imagination, yet rarely entirely comfortably. For the 85 per cent of Australians living within 50 kilometres of the coast, the continent that lies at our backs that is emptier, hotter, and remains haunted by the circumstance of its possession. Read more »

loitering-cover-cmyk-570

Sam van Zweden

The Writer at the Centre of the Essay: Charles D’Ambrosio’s Loitering

Loitering is Charles D’Ambrosio’s quietly brave collection of experimental essays. It doesn’t announce itself noisily, but associations slide sideways through the essays in unexpected ways. This collection is lyric in both senses – freely associative and loose, it borrows from the world, trying meaning on for size, producing metaphors and connections wherever it sees fit. Read more »

discworld

Elizabeth Flux

Footnote to a life: How Terry Pratchett kept me from going postal

If imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery, then teenage me would have been the steamroller to Terry Pratchett’s somewhat plagiarised tarmac. In the ten years since I first picked up The Fifth Elephant, my work has been littered with Pratchettisms to varying degrees. Read more »

6314976-3x2-940x627

Rebecca Shaw

Out of Alignment: Religion, politics and priorities

Throughout your (hopefully long) life, you will often be forced to prioritise one thing over another thing.
Because we make these decisions based on what we personally think is important or morally right, the things other people choose to prioritise can be confusing or upsetting to us. I find this happens regularly when bearing witness to what some religious people or religious groups choose to place importance on. Read more »

Rebecca Shaw

TERF War: Transphobia in the LGBTQI community

I started to realise that I was ‘not like other girls’ about the time I hit puberty. From that point on I underwent an extensive and daunting process to emerge from my closeted cocoon into the beautiful lesbian butterfly I am today. An important part of that development was realising – mostly via the Internet (or very occasionally through people I met in real life) – that there were people like me all over the world. Read more »

9807778273_afe6ec792d_z

Rebecca Shaw

Breaking the Celluloid Ceiling

We are still at a point where far less than half the movies we see have a clear female protagonist, even though women are half of the population. If women as an ENTITY are not properly represented, their stories not told, what chance then do women of colour have? Read more »

flock_roof

Anwen Crawford

Don’t be Sheepish: Why Ewe Should See Shaun the Sheep Movie

Shaun the Sheep Movie is the latest feature-length production from Aardman Animations (the folk who brought us Chicken Run), and it is a delight. Borrow a young relative for cover if you must, but believe me, you are not too cool for a kid’s movie when it’s this much fun. Read more »

9331818982_322b389ff2_z

Annabel Brady-Brown

The blue pill or the red pill? In defence of highbrow film

Cinema is a powerful medium. Going to the movies, be it a Lav Diaz epic or a Michael Bay blockbuster, is an act of submission. You hand over $15 and the whole mash of your brain/senses/heart/dreams for ninety minutes. Read more »

girlwalkshomealoneatnight

Anwen Crawford

Bad Cities

A Most Violent Year has an atmosphere of all-pervading dread, like a film noir, as if the polluted air of New York itself was causing people to act against their better intentions. Even more haunting and more noir is A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, a memorably audacious debut feature from American-Iranian director Ana Lily Amirpour. Read more »

empire-tv-review-fox

Anwen Crawford

Rise of an Empire

Watching Empire, I wondered why there haven’t been more television shows about record labels, the music industry being the cesspit of venality that it is. Forget TV dramas about police departments and hospital wards – a show about a record label comes with all that conflict, plus outfits, plus songs. Read more »

video-undefined-22D54AFA00000578-784_636x358

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Insufferable assholes and grown up Girls

Yes, our girls are growing, learning, discovering. But all they’re really discovering is how toxic and unheroic they are, and how to use that to their advantage. They’re not going to grow out of their asshole tendencies, because they are actually assholes. Read more »

agent-carter-7683

Danielle Binks

Agent Carter and the future of the female superhero

Agent Carter has been described ‘a Triumph for Women, Marvel and TV,’ and heralded as an important new chapter in comics culture. If this supposedly groundbreaking new show fails, does it spell doom for the future of female-led superhero franchises? Read more »

2011 Jesse Knish Photography

Katie Williams

Pilgrimage to San Francisco: Power and Privilege at the Game Developers Conference

Attendees talk about the annual pilgrimage to the Game Developer’s Conference with the same reverence as a child’s first trip to Disney World. It’s the Magic Kingdom for adult nerds. The weeks leading up to the conference are full of discussion about which parties to attend, and how best to make an impression on people who could be useful in furthering your game development career. Read more »

jakobson0052

Katie Williams

Storytelling vs. interactivity: What makes a highbrow game?

What makes a game ‘highbrow’? We don’t have solid criteria for deciding conclusively which games are masterpieces, and which are just dumb, explosive fun. Read more »

ss_f6a450fbf737eb04c58b973f72e8817bb2b50285.600x338

Katie Williams

Brain Candy: Are game jams diluting the potential of video games?

In a world where YouTube gameplay videos narrated by hollering amateurs hold as much clout – if not more – than professional game critics, I worry that developers may be swayed to choose an easier, unimaginative, and more vacuous path to success. Read more »

16475519129_bb489cf4ce_o

Jane Howard

Creative Space: The secret power of community theatres

Theatre is inextricably tied to space, and the best theatre spaces become more than buildings. They become communities of like-minded people: of artists and of audience members, intermingling their ideas and their lives. Read more »

Tessa Waters stars in Womanz

Jane Howard

Fringe Feminism: Women, comedy and performance art

Taken together, the work of these female comics and performers loudly proclaims that their ideas about gender, femininity, performance and comedy are not diametrically opposed. It is because of their performance backgrounds that their shows are hilarious, not in spite of them. Read more »

Before Us_3

Jane Howard

Stuart Bowden’s Unfamiliar, Universal Worlds

It’s hard to classify the work of Stuart Bowden. His one-person storytelling theatre works are at once hilarious and melancholy. They exist in a particular space of fringe theatre: intricately crafted stories built for small rooms & small audiences, they lift and rise that audience, gathering us all up in the magic of stories & the closeness they can breed. Read more »