Why Hollywood Loves Bad Moms

Illustration for article titled Why Hollywood Loves Bad Moms

This was a year — and an Oscar season — for our enduring fascination with bad cinema mothers.

As The Daily Beast's Stephen Farber points out, it was almost as good a year for dysfunctional matriarchs — think Black Swan and The Fighter, hard on the heels of Mo'Nique's monstrous turn in Precious — as for cinematic cunnilingus. (Freudians are welcome to connect the two trends!) But then, it's nothing new.

Farber takes us through the history of film, from the noble mothers of the silents to the game-changing Mildred Pierce (being remade!) on down to The Manchurian Candidates I and II. Clearly audiences — and Oscar voters — love a bad mom, whether she's flat-out horror fodder (think Norman Bates or Carrie) or more subtly cruel, like Mary Tyler Moore's withholding Ordinary People character.


Sure, it's easy drama, and as we all know there are only so many stories to tell. But is there more to it than that? It seems clear that we love to see an evil mother vanquished as the ultimate villain. Oedipal, sure — and you'll note that both the director's helming this year's crop are men — but also institutional. It doesn't seem like a stretch to point to society's traditional fear of the aging woman as crone, witch, malevolent power. After prime fertility, we don't know what to do with women — a dynamic played out dramatically and ironically in Hollywood. In a way, it's easier to deal with them if they're villains, forces who exist purely to disrupt the lives of younger, more viable characters for whom our feelings are less complex. The mothers in the films from the last few years aren't just bad; they have no lives of their own, are parasitic. God forbid they should have more going on than doting on us malevolently — maybe our real — and unspoken — fear.

Hollywood's Bad Mother Obsession [Daily Beast]

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We "love" evil mommys, true, and that definitely is reflective of our attitudes towards women, but it more ways than are mentioned here.

A horrifying mother is higher drama because there's a kind of irony there: what is more terrifying and awful than the person we think of as loving us the most being a monster? It's the same reason there are so many creepy-little-kid horror movies. It's flipping an expectation (kids are cute and harmless) on its head.

(Edited for punctuation.)