Film & Media Studies Theory

Whitman College – FMS 387

Mama: The Monstrous Feminine

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I have not seen this movie; in fact, I barely made it through the trailer.  Guillermo Del Toro is one creepy director.  However, I feel that the reason this film seems SO terrifying is that it exemplifies extreme abjection without ever (as far as I know) using the visual of a corpse.  As Kristeva points out, “abjection…reaches its apex when death…interferes with what, in my living universe, is supposed to save me from death: childhood” and family, in this case (Kristeva, 4).  Living children, gaunt and dirty as corpses, reviles the viewer, and their love (perhaps) for a dark void that they call “Mama” fits well into Creed’s discussion of the monstrous feminine.  

It seems that Mama is a “black hole that signifies female genitalia as a monstrous sign which threatens to give birth to equally horrific offspring” (Creed, 261).  It is important then that the two children who this darkness has raised are girls; they have the potential to perpetuate the horrific as well.  Within the plot, the girls have been alone, “raised” by this supernatural force, for five years, so they are decidedly separated from society and the Symbolic.  The monstrous femine, Mama, has, “[b]y refusing to relinquish her hold on her child[ren]…prevents [them] from taking up [their] proper place in relation to the Symbolic” (Creed, 254).  Thus, their reintegration into society is seen as the good, worthy goal which Mama apparently hopes to prevent.  The mother figure, having supposedly kept them safe for five years, is nonetheless evil and demonic for sheltering them from the Symbolic for so long.  

The surrogate parents in the film attempt to dismantle “‘the fusion between mother and nature’” and impose “‘the order of the phallus’” where there had been none before (Creed, 255).  The mother figure in the film, demonized and inhuman, makes such a transition away from motherly nurturing desirable and preferred to being kept feral and dirty.  So, “although the subject must exclude the abject, it must, nevertheless, be tolerated, for that which threatens to destroy life also helps to define life” (Creed, 253).  In the case of this film, what is defined by Mama are societal structures within life; namely family and society itself.  Being feral is worse than being in society, and being raised by a single mother is worse than being a part of a family.  Mama, in addition to being one scary looking movie, seems to typify the monstrous feminine and the role of motherhood in abjection.  


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