Collage of movie posters. Credit: Claire Lorimor | Mustang News

Neta Bar is a business administration junior and opinion columnist for Mustang News. The views reflected in this piece don’t necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.

If I were to attempt to produce a singular, distilled image of a so-called “Mother” in my mind, no coherent image takes form, no matter how hard I try. This is not for a lack of encounters with moms across the board – I’ve been well acquainted, rest assured. My own mom, moms of friends, mothers holding infants on airplanes, reprimanding teenagers in restaurants. I’ve observed, carefully, all of these dynamics as I have happened upon them, by choice or otherwise. 

This data has culminated into one consistent conclusion: motherhood is as versatile as it is individual. Whether your mom was your best friend, your worst enemy or somewhere in between, your relationship is your own. And somewhere out there, there’s a movie that chronicles it perfectly. 

While the mosaic of motherhood could by no means be synopsized by a handful of measly movies, the following will provide a glimpse into the crux of the maternal relationship – as ambitiously represented in the medium of film.

The Vicarious Mother: Mean Girls 

She’s not a regular mom; she’s a cool mom! And to her, you are a mirror. Thanks to the eminent cultural contribution that is Mean Girls, we’ve obtained a timeless meditation on the Vicarious Mother in all her whimsy glory. 

In the film, Amy Poehler plays Regina George’s mother – a character who embodies the caricatured version of the person who stayed in her hometown after peaking in high school. She is a superficially happy woman with a latent longing for the years of her youth. 

These are, categorically, the ingredients for a mother with approximately zero boundaries; not a morsel of your identity is exclusively your own. She is supportive, she is chipper, she will choreograph, direct, and record your Christmas talent show dance. Not only does she want to know everything about your life, she wants to virtually live it. 

One of Mean Girl’s greatest triumphs is effectively representing the zeitgeist of the time. The velvet Juicy tracksuits, flat-ironed hair teased to the gods – all of it screams 2004. But if the film were to be produced today, the Vicarious Mother would take on a whole new set of delightful idiosyncrasies. 

I like to imagine her as a Lululemon Range Rover mom with an impressively robust Instagram following. When she first made the account, it was innocuous, almost sweet; shortly thereafter, you step back and reckon with the monster it has become. She’s followed all your followers. She’s posting like an influencer whose rent is due. She’s leaving bewilderingly cheeky comments on the posts of friends and celebrities alike. Can this be endearing? It is up to you to decide.

The Guilt Tripper: Beau is Afraid

To preface (or, more accurately, forewarn), this movie is not for the faint of heart. In fact, there are very few mothers I can think of who would actually be successful in sitting through this 2 hour and 59 minute doozy. 

There are a myriad of themes that this film touches on, many of which leave you feeling suffocated by the bleakness of our dark, scary world (selling it magnificently so far, I know). The overarching storyline follows the protagonist’s odyssey to find his mother, with whom he has been seemingly distant. However, mom doesn’t even make an appearance until the third act. 

From start to finish, this film includes its audience in the experience of oppressive and inescapable guilt – one that is initially ambiguous, but eventually specified as shame brought on by a disappointed mother, unsatisfied by you from all possible angles. 

Your inadequate qualities, the time you put into the relationship, even the ways you behaved in childhood – everything about you falls short. Beau is Afraid is riddled with grotesque images and disorienting dialogue, but the real horror happens when viewers join Beau in the cinematic panic attack of a journey to realizing that no matter what he does, all efforts are futile in the face of the the ultimate checkmate, the resentful mother – the Guilt Tripper, so to speak. 

The Shenanigan Survivor: Donnie Darko 

This movie is by no means about motherhood, not even close. It is about a sixteen year old boy completely overtaken by the sinister anguish that is late adolescence. Donnie Darko undergoes an almost transcendental enlightenment as his story unfolds, unearthing a whole medley of philosophical worldviews and intellectual challenges – just like every other pubescent teenager, of course. 

Unfortunately, this pubescent teenager happens to apply his many epiphanies to the material world, and he does so by becoming an agent of complete catastrophe, wreaking havoc, being up to no good. 

This pubescent teeanger also happens to have a mother, and while the narrative’s spotlight does not shine on her for very long, her character is emblematic of an underrated motherly archetype, one that exemplifies motherhood in its most fundamental form: unconditional love, regardless of the absolute atrocities a child will put their mother through. 

Undaunted by his misbehavior, Donnie’s mom never ceases to embrace him with unequivocal fondness and patience, a sense of sincere recognition and respect. The Shenanigan Survivor is a symbol of reciprocity and tender love, for the pubescent teenager but also the flailing adult. 

The Low-Blow Arguer: Lady Bird 

This dynamic is a ubiquitously relatable one, especially when it comes to relationships of the mother-daughter variety. As its name appropriately suggests, this breed of mother will argue with you about anything, criticize you for everything, wear you down and rile you up. This is an experience that Lady Bird represents so vividly, those who are privy to the affliction will find themselves subjected to the most menacing deja vu. 

With the Low-Blow Arguer, at least once in your life, you will scream-fight in the car. Not infrequently, this will result in the overwhelming inclination to drop and roll out of the passenger seat and onto the road. 

This coming-of-age film is about the mother who ultimately wants the best for her child – a message that gets lost in translation as she lets her own struggles fog the benevolence of her intentions. This strain of mother exhibits the most polarizing of vices, and that is that no matter the hardships you go through, in her eyes, your trauma will never amount to hers. 

This complex spawns a relationship that is fragmented but potent, complicated but strong. In between the lines – in the spaces between their calculatedly biting insults and affectations of contempt – viewers can feel in their connection a strained but defiant love. The fierceness with which they fight is a mangled manifestation of the passion with which they love.