With Mother’s Day around the corner (May 14 – don’t forget!), we find ourselves remembering some of the most famous mothers in film. Whether it is an independent film or a Hollywood blockbuster, a mother character is almost always in the picture. They are loving and kind, fierce and intelligent, but can also be strict, overbearing, even psychotic. No matter the archetype, it cannot be denied that mothers play a huge role in some of history’s biggest films.
Here are four different stereotypes of mothers in film.
Spoiler Alert — this article may contain some movie spoilers. If you haven’t seen these great films, watch them now!
1. The Best Friend
While a mother will always be a mother, her relationship with her children changes as they grow up. The Best Friend movie mother begins to lose control of her children, and must become something different for them: a friend. This doesn’t mean they do everything together and get along all the time. Quite the opposite. The mother is usually controlling and feels helpless in the face of having no authority. But she will always be there to support her daughter as a friend. For example, Sally Field in “Steel Magnolias” and Shirley McClain in “Terms of Endearment.” The image of McClain’s character and her daughter (played by Debra Winger) lying in bed together is an iconic image and shows the closeness of their relationship.
While the mothers and daughter may not always see eye to eye, they are in constant contact with each other and talk like friends. Strangely, these two films have similar tragic endings as well (grab the tissues!).
2. The Supermom
Perhaps the most popular movie mom stereotype, the Supermom is also the broadest because of how many different types of Supermoms there are. They can be everything from a housewife to a business woman, however one thing always rings true: they will fight like hell for their family. Take Molly Weasley (Julie Walters) in the “Harry Potter” films. In the clips below, she protects her daughter from the crazed Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter).
Or Etheline Tenebaum (Angelica Houston) from “The Royal Tenenbaums.” A single mother who “kept the house and raised the children, and their education was her highest priority.”
There is also Mary Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” (played by Donna Reed), who helps save her husband when he has money problems and could go to jail.
No task is too big for whatever challenges she faces. The Supermom is always loving, strong, unyielding, and will do anything for their family.
3. The Overbearing Mother
On a different end of the movie mother spectrum is the overbearing mother. She wants what is best for her child, but that often means what she thinks is best. She will ignore her child’s wishes, dreams, or personality to force them into something they are not. The mother may have good intentions, but it will always result in a rift between them. The child will sometimes run away, resent his/her mother, or even do drastic things to exert their individuality. How the mother controls her children varies. For example, Annette Bening’s character in “American Beauty” is a powerhouse of control. She uses passive aggressive remarks and insults to show her disapproval of her daughter.
The character of Mrs. Bennet, played by Brenda Blethyn, in “Pride and Prejudice” (2005) forces her daughter Elizabeth to marry a man she doesn’t love (until her father steps in to save her).
In the world of animated film, the mother from “Brave” (2012), is a perfect example of a controlling mother. She tries to teach her headstrong and rebellious daughter Merida how to be a lady, and even tries to force her into an arranged marriage.
Luckily, this story ends more happily, with mother and daughter learning more about each other and finally coming together.
4. The Psycho
The most extreme movie mother stereotype is the psychotic mother, who takes overbearing to a whole other level. She controls her children through psychological and even physical abuse, sometimes driving the children themselves to commit terrible acts. The first example that comes to mind is, of course, Mrs. Bates from “Psycho” (1960). While we learn at the end of the film that Mrs. Bates was not the real killer, her life before she became a skeleton in the cellar is not a pretty one. She was controlling with her son Norman, abused him psychologically, and wouldn’t let him have relationships with other women because of her crazed jealousy. She even killed herself and her lover, leaving Norman all alone to fill the void she left in his life. Though we never see Mrs. Bates on screen, the scene below with her voice over shows the true psychotic nature of this mother.
Another example is the characters of actress Joan Crawford (played by Faye Dunaway) in the 1981 film “Mommie Dearest.” Based on a memoir by Crawford’s daughter Christina, the film shows the psychotic downward spiral her mother takes as she goes from star to has-been. She torments her children, locks Christina in a pool house, and physically abuses them when they do anything wrong. The famous scene below depicts Joan screaming at Christina for hanging her expensive dresses on wire hangers and then beating her with one. The line “No wire hangers!” later became a classic movie quote.
Trigger Warning: the following video clip depicts domestic violence against children and contains some disturbing images.
The mother from the 1976 “Carrie” is perhaps the epitome of the psychotic mother. Played by Piper Laurie, Carrie’s mother abuses her daily. She teaches a strict religious doctrine, won’t allow her daughter to date, hits her, and will even lock her up when she does something wrong. Unfortunately, the mother’s psychosis leads her to try to kill her daughter, who uses her powers to defend herself.
Does your current film project include a mother? Does she fit into one of the above movie stereotypes, or is she something brand new? Tell us about her and don’t forget to call your own mom this Mother’s Day!