Thursday, April 25, 2013

Creepy by association: Mothers

This one is going to be touchy, but hear me out.  

I love my mother and I love my wife who recently became a mother. They’re great. There are plenty of non-creepy mothers in the world. There are even nice stepmothers. I have a stepmother and a stepmother-in-law, so I have I have plenty of experience here. Being a mother is probably the single greatest thing a person can do and only half of the world’s population even has the capability of becoming a mother.

But every now and again, some mothers go crazy. Or they have a creepy influence over their children (usually their sons—there’s a whole mythological/psychological background to this which I won’t get too deeply into. Google Oedipus and/or Freud if you are that curious.) Books and movies have helped bolster these notions.

I think of this now for two reasons: the first, as stated above, is that my wife is now a mother and we’ll have our first Mother’s Day to celebrate this year; the second is that I’m taking a course on Alfred Hitchcock and twisted mother/son relationships are all over his films.

The most famous mother-son relationship in all of cinema is in Psycho, one of Hitchcock’s acknowledged masterpieces. Loner Norman Bates loves his mother so much that he keeps her dead body in the basement and sometimes dresses up as her to kill people. (If you haven’t seen Psycho and I just ruined it for you, that’s your fault. You should have seen Psycho by now.) “A boy's best friend is his mother,” Bates tells the soon-to-be-dead Marion Crane. Psycho is a model of how messed up an extreme Oedipal complex can be. But it isn’t the only time Hitchcock used this model.

As Alex Sebastian in Notorious, Claude Rains goes through a similar situation as Norman Bates. Sebastian discovers his wife is not who he thought she was and turns to his mommy for help in killing her. It is the elder Madame Sebastian who devises the plan to slowly poison Ingrid Bergman’s character, Alicia. Madame Sebastian even looks almost as skeletal as the decomposing Mrs. Bates. And like Mrs. Bates, Madame Sebastian will likely escape the punishment for the crimes that her son commits. Mrs. Bates, of course, is dead and her influence on Norman is, for the duration of the film, all in his head. Madame Sebastian, however, is very much alive and not just complicit in the attempted murder of Alicia but the progenitor of the plan to kill her son’s wife. We don’t get any vocalization of Alex’s thoughts about his mother but she is the first person he turns to, even entering her bedroom while she sleeps. We do get to hear how Madame Sebastian feels about her son when she tells him, “We are protected by the enormity of your stupidity, for a time.”

It’s pretty messed up, to say the least. If not for Psycho, Mrs. Voorhees might not have been the original killer in the first Friday the 13th movie. It’s a mirror image of Psycho. In the latter film, it’s Mrs. Voorhees that says, “Kill her, Mommy! Kill her! Don't let her get away, Mommy! Don't let her live!"

And there are plenty of examples beyond Hitchcock and even beyond the mother-son pairings. Disney has made a fortune on the “wicked stepmother” who can’t tolerate the beauty or even the presence of a stepdaughter. Nicole Kidman’s mother character in The Others turns out to be the villain. And who is the most bad ass being in all of space? The Queen from the Alien franchise.

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