Mildred Pierce: What not to do as a parent

Spoiler Alert: Contains reference to plots and sub-plots.

As the title suggests, this is not a review, only a critique of characters. Mark these words, critique of characters, not of the work of James M. Cain or the makers of HBO miniseries. If you have not watched the HBO mini-series yet please take time out to do it. If you do not intend to watch it here is the synopsis.

“Mildred Pierce depicts an overprotective, self-sacrificing mother during the Great Depression who finds herself separated from her husband, opening a restaurant of her own and falling in love with a new man, all the while trying to earn her narcissistic daughter’s love and respect.”

Mildred is the best baker in Glendale CA, inexperienced businessperson, hopeless lover/partner, and a God-awful mother. Her story, essentially, is an emotionally violent journey of a mother-daughter relationship and a study of what not to do in parenting. As the story progresses, one feels this constant urge to slap some sense in to Mildred as she slowly but surely plods along the path of self-destruction and while at it manages to ruin several lives, most importantly the life of aforementioned narcissistic daughter Veda.

If I may deconstruct a parent-child relationship during the child’s formative years, Parents encourage growth in three ways.

1. First and most important: the values they inculcate in the child directly or most often indirectly by being a role model. This includes moral values (Honesty, humility, hard-work, etc.), societal values, sense and extent of right or wrong, etc.
2. Then they try to equip the child with means and tools to realise full potential intellectually or talent wise.
3. Then, and only then, they assist or encourage the child’s ambitions or dreams.

Remember the order of importance: 1. Right values, 2. Means, & 3. Ambition

Mildred somehow had it exactly the opposite. She first encouraged Veda’s ambition, and then tried (and failed) to equip her with means to achieve her full potential while most important ingredient, values, was simply thrown out of the Pierce household. No wonder Veda grew up to become a poisonous, conniving, petulant, pretentious woman (I almost wrote bitch there).

Ironically, the only person to have a measure of Veda in her own simple sense was Moire, Mildred’s other daughter who was supposedly too young and naïve to make a difference. It is best encapsulated in a dialogue where she is talking to her mother about Veda, “You know how she is mother; she likes to pretend.” Instead of correcting Veda’s pretentions Mildred actually changes her life to join her daughter’s web of self-deception.

With the luxury of cinematized hindsight, these observations might seem obvious but ask yourself, have you not seen similar real life parent-child relationship ending in despair for all parties involved?

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