At first I had this a part of my core post but I think I started rambling a bit too much so I deiced to put it up here as a supplemental post instead. I wanted to blog post comparing the mother/child relationships in both North by Northwest and Now, Voyager. There seemed to be so many similarities and interesting contrasts between the way these relationships were explored in the films and in the way female and male protagonists dealt their difficult mothers.
Both films have an overbearing mother character that plays a crucial in the protagonist’s gender performance. North by Northwest’s protagonist, Roger Thornhill is criticized and at once oddly dependent on his mother. He calls her drunk, slurring his words to a cop in a police officer. He takes to the scene of the crime, the house he swears he was kidnapped to in beginning of the film. He even is publically embarrasses by her when she asks his kidnappers in a crowded elevator, “You’re not really trying to kill my son, are you?” In response, the whole elevator-full of people laughs. Roger looks mortified. This emphasizes Roger’s emotional immaturity and arrested development. He’s a boy with his mom. He can’t take care of himself, let alone seem like the hero of film. Many of these moments between Roger and his mother feel reminiscent of the Albert Brooks film, Mother – in which Albert Brooks goes home to live with his mother (played by Debbie Renolds) in order to get over his writer’s block. Embarrassing moments ensue and to say the least, Debbie Renold’s character emasculates her son in public unknowingly throughout the whole film. Like in North by Northwest, this mother/son relationship is supposed to be funny. The male protagonist’s failure to be a “man,” to be mature enough to take care himself, take responsibility/agency without the help his mother – is amusing and even a satisfying surprise for the audience.
This is all a much lighter tone than the mother/daughter’s relationship in Now, Voyager. Charlotte’s relationship with her mother is an antagonist force in the film. When the film opens, after years under her mother’s control, Charlotte is mentally unstable and hysterical. Each time her mother embarrasses her, she can’t laugh it off. There’s a much more sinister undertone to their relationship and her mother has a few almost villainous moments in the film. As a woman protagonist, it’s almost too pathetic, unacceptable, uncomfortable for her to be so dependent on her mother. It’s not funny. It’s serious issue for her (and I would say that it’s suggested to be serious issue for other women too. Sometimes the film felt like a warning to untraditionally pretty or just socially awkward women to get your act together. Like don’t be too close to your mother’s girls. It’s bad for yah. And also glasses are bad. )
One of the ways in which Charlotte regains some agency over her life is denying her mother control over her body and expression femininity. Of course, a major difference in Now, Voyager and North by Northwest – is that Charlotte’s appearance is drastically different when she’s under her mother’s control. Her mother denies Charlotte the ability to express traditional forms of femininity and sexuality and as a result, Charlotte is denounced as an ugly duckling, a pretty crazy ugly duckling one too. Roger still gets to look like a suit-wearing, tan, Cary Grant. He’s not wearing glasses and Victorian outfits. Though I would watch that movie….