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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What you desire is what you become.” Thus saith conventional wisdom, but that’s beside the point and therefore I have started with it. My point is: no matter what you become, it doesn’t really matter.                                    

No seriously, as they ask in the IBM promo, “What makes you special?” Think about it. The mind-boggling figure you share this space with, and all of them quite like you.You may be a result of try-outs of a new position, or worse, miscalculation of days or worse still, the bubble in the rubber. And that is just the start, literally. You might have been the sperm who won over others, but  thousands won that day. You share your birthday with thousands and your birth date with a lot more. Don’t be surprised if your very minute was hijacked as well. 

You shared your school with different thousands, and you fought with them for one of the front seats, or the last, if you please. If you go to a good college, you leave behind the billions and join ‘the’ million. Employed? Join the club comprising half the world. Unemployed? Join the other half. Millionaire? There are more than a million millionaires.Noble prize winner? A lot of you have come and gone. Married? Unmarried?  Nothing is out of the world and that applies for your girlfriend/boyfriend as well, and Single has always been a popular and overcrowded category around here.

I hate the IBM commercial, but it also makes me realize the vainness of the emotions like jealousy, hatred and most of all pride. I do not have anything particular against these except what a self-righteous person is justified to have. They just seem out of place. Love and other nice sounding words might give you a reason to live and feel special, but what purposes do these have?

And as some very, very wise man once said, “Sorry for the mess.”