Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Revolt of the Stepford mothers

"The desire to be likable, it is really a pain in the neck," says Louise Bourgeois in the emponymous documentary at the Film Forum. Say it again, sister! Frank, feisty, eccentric, cranky, she seems up to the task of resisting the temptation to please (though she is lovable, if not exactly likable), notably in an anecdote told by her son Jean-Louis about how one day, when her family was not adequately appreciative of her cooking efforts, she dumped a roasted leg of lamb out the window. Jean-Louis retrieved it, rinsed the grit off and set it on the table, and the family sat down to eat in silence.

It's a funny anecdote, but there's something disturbing about a woman who is so vocal (and visual) about the deep, lasting wounds inflicted by her father's infidelity and by her fear of abandonment yet who seems insouciant about the effects of her own irritable caprices. I have no idea what kind of mother she was overall. Jean-Louis doesn't whine. And she says merely, "My answer as a parent is, I do what I can. I never promised you a rose garden." But that scene suggests a somewhat chilling childlike self-indulgence.

The movie kept nipping at my memory after we left the theater. LB reminded me of someone, but I couldn't put my finger on whom. Then it came to me: my mother! My mother yielded to similar impulses: One day she approached my father while he was eating breakfast and snipped his tie in half with a pair of scissors. "I told you I hated that tie," she said.

Unlike LB, however, my mother, though once maddened by the stultification of parenting in a Stepford suburb, mellowed as she got older (and moved to the city).

No comments: