Movies in the past have shown the world the 'ideal' mother, one who spends her life sacrificing or reinforcing patriarchy. Motherhood is magical, it is painful; it is beautiful, but it is also terrifying. Here are 7 movies from Hollywood that break the stereotypical roles and representations of mothers in the film industry.
1. Wonder, 2017
The movie Wonder is an adaptation of the best-selling novel by Robert Chbsoky. The movie traces the life of a boy August Pullman who was born with a craniofacial condition called Treacher Collin Syndrome. Julia Roberts plays the role of his mother who subtly brings out the perils of motherhood, rather than clinging on to the typical depiction of mothers. A mother who has to bring up her child who is seen so differently by the world and that feeling of not being able to fully defend your child against the bad parts about the world.
The beautiful part of the movie is that even though she sacrifices her PhD to be back home and home-school Auggie, she let her child grow. She let him dream, she let him be who he was rather than trying to make him fit in. She never told him that he can't do something because of his deformity. She let him decide his own limits. She broke the stereotype of holding the child's hand through everything, of imposing her judgement on him, and being the mother who decides for the child.
2. Bird Box, 2018
The film starring Sandra Bullock explodes the idea of a nurturing motherhood. There was a sense of 'aggressive forcefulness', strict and uncompromising. The very presentation of having to navigate, and the dialogue “keep running and don’t stop til you get there”, the blindfolds on is an allegory for motherhood, of how uncertainty plays and being able to protect your child from potential disasters, hoping you've done the right thing.
She realises in the movie how her toughness is keeping her children to dream. The movie brings in the idea of intensive parenting- restlessness, a sense of constant fear. Motherhood brings with it the experience of the world, of growing up as a woman and dealing with the grey spots; the film brings the harsh realisation- we can only look out for our children and not stop them from exploring the world.
3. Mama Mia, 2008
Donna isn't the traditional mom that dresses her child and gives up her dreams. She takes care of her Greek island without any male support, which stereotypically a woman is always shown to have the need for. Her role comes across as a strong, wilful, and a mother who is a single-parent, more of a best friend rather than a figure that instructs her daughter. As a mother, she isn't a woman who isn't one who is sensitive or brought down by the challenges of the real world. It prioritises self-actualisation, a mom who changes with the needs of a changing society. Being a single mother, she does not constantly look for a father for her child, her motherhood is bases more on the idea of joy rather than resentment and letting her worries take over in the act of parenting.
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4. Lady Bird, 2017
This movie beautifully explores the complexities of a mother-daughter love. It acknowledges how the "best decisions and intentions" of a mother for their child can take the wrong turn of the road. Lady Bird, brings to us the very humane side of motherhood- of making the wrong decisions and personal hangups. The film sheds light on how a mother's own insecurities can be projected on her behaviour on her child, unlike others which give an undertone of these insecurities and eventually dismisses them.
Films That Break Stereotypes About Mothers
It brings out the boundaries in the mother-daughter relationship and how the mother, Marian, deals with her abandonment issues, it reflects on the experiences of being a mother. Lady Bird and her mother's bond has an underlying focus on how hard a time her mother had to express her feelings to her child in order to be there for her. In typical scenarios, a mother would impose her decisions by probably giving her a full flashback narration of how she was treated, but this film sees and hears the difficulty of being a woman.
5. Roma, 2019
Roma, is the first film from Mexico that won the foreign language award in the Oscars. The movie explore the very experience of being a mother in a traditional culture that historically embedded in patriarchy. It very firmly puts out how motherhood isn't just changing nappies and sleepless nights.
The film brings to the stage a mother who is caught between being in control and out of it, being kind and strict, yet being the one who has to provide for her children- emotionally and materially. It brings to the epicentre the life of a domestic mother, and presents it with the human respect and dignity it deserves without exploiting the profession. The progression of a woman getting pregnant, being abandoned by the father of the child. She might not have the "ideal" family narrative, but that does not fail her as a mother. It embraces the flaws in motherhood, the imperfections and the tarnished side of being a mother.
6. The Lost Daughter, 2021
The film starring Olivia Coleman and Dakota Johnson, captures the horror of motherhood. It doesn't focus on the 'mommy is always right' and 'mommy is always a bastion of safety' side, but the usually seen side of motherhood on the big screens. The film shows the human side of being a mother, the side which is conflicted when her child's needs are structurally opposed to hers.
In the film history, the notions of motherhood have clung on to the fantasy of selflessness, but The Lost Daughter recognizes the mother the way she is, not with labels of "ideal", "sacrificing" or "nurturing". It's certainly a refreshing sight to see where stereotypes are broken.
Views expressed are author's own
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