Dirty Pillows! No wire hangers! We forgot Kevin! Film moms are always the worst parents possible. That's if they're around at all, of course. The only thing more common than a crazy movie mom is a dead one. For decades Hollywood has been churning out film after film featuring unstable or absent moms, to the point that it's kind of become the norm in modern movies. It didn't happen by accident, either. Here are five reasons every movie mom is dead or crazy.
#5. Because Walt Disney Kills Every Mom
You know who was pretty influential? Walt Disney. And the thing about influence is that it makes other people do the same things as you. So, if you're looking for a good starting point for the trend of dead moms in movies, look no further. I don't think Disney is capable of making a movie with a mom who survives past the first 15 minutes, if they're not already dead before the movie even starts.
Turns out it may be some sort of deeply embedded neuroses in the Disney family manifesting in cartoon-mom body counts. Walt Disney's mom, Flora Call Disney, lived to the ripe old age of 70, and she died in 1938, so that was a very long life.
Also, she was probably like 14 in this picture.
The thing is, she may have lived even longer if her boy Walt hadn't bought a death trap of a house for her.
Rumor has it that she complained several times about a faulty gas leak in the home, but no one fixed it adequately and she met her fate by asphyxiating on carbon monoxide. We all know Walt may have had an affinity for gas chambers, but despite this inclination he was devastated about his mother's passing, and now we have to endure dead mothers in cartoon form for all eternity.
That her death was the impetus for the startling run of missing mom movies isn't at all guaranteed, but that's not the point. Those movies still exist, and they came at a time when Disney was doing some of his most influential work. The film that bought Flora that house, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was the first American feature-length animated film ever. No mom there, unless you count the wicked stepmother.
How shitty were things at home that living with her was the better option?
Two others that were in production at the time of her death, Pinocchio and Bambi, feature no mom and a murdered mom, respectively. So, I suppose it's just as possible that he secretly wanted his mom dead and that desire was coming through in his work at the time.
Whatever the case, this period kicked off an impressive run of animated feature films from Disney, culminating with the classic Cinderella, about a young girl whose mom is already dead before the cameras start rolling (so to speak).
Again, it's no guarantee that Walt Disney decided to make these films because of what happened with his mom, but the fact remains, the man set a lot of trends, and dead moms in animated films was definitely one of them.
#4. Because John Hughes Had Mommy Issues
Bad mothers show up in tons of films, but when I start to see a pattern from a particular director, I get a bit worried. I'm looking at you, John Hughes. Well, I was looking at him. RIP.
Anyway, how influential was that guy? He had so much of an impact on the filmmakers that came after him that his name even comes up when horror movie directors get together to talk about the people who shaped their work. Unfortunately, that means untold numbers of hopeful film students took his techniques and tendencies to heart, including his propensity for making the moms in his movies completely crazy.
I'll admit that I like the first Home Alone, and the garbage bird lady in Home Alone 2 is very inspiring. I'd like her as my best friend. We could feed birds and prance around in the seedier parts of Central Park and not get mugged.
Just kidding, those pigeons are fucking gross.
But let's look at the reality of this movie. Yes, the seemingly dedicated mother, Kate McCallister, takes a plane back from Paris and makes her way across the country, never bathing, never eating, and hitching a ride with a polka band to get back to her son. That's great, but also, she forgot him. She forgot Kevin, guys! The garbage bird lady treats those Central Park rat pigeons better than Kate treats her own kid.
Seriously, though. Gross.
These seemingly sweet but terrible mother characters turn up in Hughes' work all the time. The mom in Ferris Bueller's Day Off can't tell the difference between a lifeless mannequin and her own flesh-and-blood asshole son, who, frankly, if I had him as a best friend I'd probably be just as depressed as Cameron is.
Hell, Mr. Mom is just a movie about how a dude is a better mom than a mom. Hughes nails that male mom character, though, doesn't he?
Let's ponder for a minute how great it would be to have Michael Keaton for a mom.
Or how about Claire's alcoholic mother in The Breakfast Club? Molly Ringwald characters just cannot catch a break on the mom front in John Hughes movies. Her mom forgets her damn birthday in Sixteen Candles. In Pretty in Pink, I don't think her mom even exists.
The list goes on. And, again, crazy moms show up in a lot of movies, but when those movies include damn near the entire repertoire of one of the most copied directors of the last few decades, it's going to rub off on people. John Hughes didn't invent crazy movie moms, but he did make them seem normal, and not in a good way.
#3. Because Dead Moms Give Dudes an Excuse to Act Stupid
When it comes to inspiring motivations for characters to do the stupid things they do in movies, a dead loved one is a heck of a catalyst. Say, for example, you need a quick way to get an audience to feel sympathy for or believe in a character's actions. Make them a widower with a kid! It's an easy-peasy, one-step solution to that whole "plot" problem so many writers struggle with.
An Affair to Remember, the inspiration for Sleepless in Seattle, has Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr entangled in a complicated love affair based on mutual attraction, admiration, and a willingness to overcome tragic human conditions, like not being able to paint.
Movies needed all those details back then on account of the lack of explosions.
Sleepless in Seattle, on the other hand, has two vanilla lonely people who listen to late-night radio. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say it's a dumb film. I know, pretty controversial, right?
The movie relies on a thinly veiled attempt to just get us to like Sam because his wife is dead and to ignore that his shitty kid gets over his mom's death uncomfortably fast. We might not want to believe that Sam could possibly move past the death of his wife based solely on how hot Annie is, but we're tricked into it. And why is that? It's simple: We want Sam's stupid actions to be OK, because, for Christ's sake, he's so sad! Let the man be depressed and get some of that good early-'90s Meg Ryan tail, just like his wife would want.
If she were still alive and into chicks.
What's not stressed in this film is that it's been only a year and a half since his wife and the mother of his kid died of horrible cancer. It's understandable that Sam isn't quite ready to move on, which makes it all the more strange that his kid is so pushy and willing to see his dad get down with a new woman.
"My dad wants to know what you're wearing right now."
What is that kid's problem? He even goes so far as to fly to New York without his dad's permission just to make sure his plan to wreck a woman's engagement so that he'll have a new mom who's into baseball doesn't fall apart at the last moment.
Meanwhile, we never question a single bit of this, because why would you? His mom is dead, you monster.