Mothers make us human
In the science fiction classic, BLADE RUNNER (1982), a replicant panics when asked about his mother, realizing that his answer will reveal him to be a machine. While not about mothers specifically, the film addresses the cultural anxieties we have about what makes us human. Our families? Our memories? Our personal history, preserved in photographs?
Mothers often take us to the heart of a narrative. Strengthening family values, or upsetting the apple cart entirely, a mother in a film can focus us on questions about life and its meaning. While the answers vary from era to era, mothers and their stories often serve as a cinematic launching pad for the issues filmmakers want us to consider.
Here are five films that use a mother to catalyze a soul-searching message:
MILDRED PIERCE (1945) -- her name’s been made current again by the HBO version, but there’s no substitute for the original noir mom, played by Joan Crawford. Michael Curtiz’s 1945 masterpiece uses all the noir conventions – a murder mystery, a femme fatale – to criticize postwar women who dared to be more than a mom.
THE BLIND SIDE (2009) -– here’s the traditional mom, a modern-day Ma Joad, in the non-traditional set-up of a wealthy white Christian family that adopts a black homeless teen. In her Oscar-winning role affirming selflessness and football, Sandra Bullock scores a touchdown for American family values. Audiences give it 90%.
CARNAGE (2011) -- this comedy pits two pitbull moms (Kate Winslet and Jodie Foster – both nominated for Golden Globes for these roles) and their husbands across the liberal/conservative divide after their kids have a fight. This film skewers self-righteous stances at a time when national political debates exploit them.
MADAME BROUETTE (2002) -– although Mati’s conditions are unique to Senegal, this film generates tremendous empathy in her search for love and her determination to offer something better to her daughter. Winner of the 2003 Golden Berlin Bear award, this film provides a universal message about triumph over adversity.
SAVING FACE (2004) -– here’s a delightfully quirky indie comedy about a mother-daughter pair; the mom is a 48-year-old widow who is pregnant, her daughter is a lesbian who plays matchmaker for her mom after she comes to live with the young Manhattanite at a really bad moment.
We select five films in our blog entries, but that's just to get the conversation going. We love getting suggestions from you about other films you'd like to see on our lists -- especially on the topic of mothers in film. Share your ideas below!