Mother Knows Best (?): Grace (2009)

A mother’s love knows no boundaries. But I didn’t expect that a mother’s love could go to that extent as it had in the movie Grace.

The film didn’t scare me, but I found it to be disturbing because of its elements of gore. Bodily fluids like blood, pus and vomit were emphasized and seen throughout the movie. These disgusting images are usually seen as taboo however in Grace, these elements were central to the story.

Grace is a movie about a mother’s unconditional love for her child. We are introduced to a couple, Michael and Madeline, who have been trying to have a baby for years. This is Madeline’s third pregnancy, and she will do anything to deliver the baby that she has wanted to have all these years. In a tragic car accident, Michael dies and Madeline and her unborn baby are in critical condition. After visiting her midwife and friend, Patricia, Madeline is informed that her unborn baby has died. However, after delivering the stillborn baby, the baby miraculously is alive and was named Grace.

The central theme in Grace revolves around mothers, wherein two mothers in the story are fighting for the baby, Grace – Madeline, Grace’s biological mother, and Vivian, Madeline’s stepmother who thinks that Madeline is unfit to be a mother. The two mothers are contrasting characters which is why they always clash with each other. Vivian has always been domineering – to her son, Michael, to her stepdaughter, Madeline and especially to her husband, Henry. She is the stereotypical overbearing mother who always wants to be in control. In the film, she constantly nagged Madeline to go see a real doctor rather than a midwife. She constantly gave knowing looks to her son when he was still alive and when Michael died, she suddenly became very hostile to her husband. When she lost her son, she felt useless as a mother which is why she wanted to take Grace away from Madeline. She felt like she lost her purpose in life because her life has always been revolved around her son, Michael. She even developed a breastfeeding fetish. As for Madeline, she does everything to protect her baby and keep her alive. And the manner in which she does this is what Barbara Creed calls the “Abject”, or “that which does not ‘respect borders, positions, rules’ . . . that which ‘disturbs identity, system, order”.

The Abject overturns our sense of what is normal and conventional. The mother as Abject, goes beyond what is normal for their child. First, a stillborn baby was brought to life. That certainly doesn’t happen in everyday life. In wanting to keep Grace alive, Madeline feeds her blood – blood from animals and even her own – even if this caused her to be anemic. Madeline also had to kill Dr. Sohn and Vivian because she didn’t want them to get Grace from her. Her way of parenting doesn’t happen in real life. You don’t see mothers feeding blood to their children or taking the life of another in order for their baby to survive. It doesn’t work that way. As an Abject, Madeline’s ways are different from ours. We view her as someone who doesn’t follow the norm.

The baby, Grace, is also the ultimate form of Abjection, because she is literally a corpse, and a living corpse at that. She wasn’t supposed to be alive anyway but she managed to come back to life. The bodily fluids mentioned earlier all come from her – vomit from being unable to drink her mother’s breast milk, the water in the bath turning brown when she was being bathed, and the fact that she is only able to ingest blood. Babies aren’t normally like Grace. They ingest milk, not blood. They do not smell like a dead body.

What I liked about the film was how transformation was presented. At the start, we see Madeline watching strange animal videos on TV and infer that she is vegan. However, due to her motherly instinct, she turned monstrous and killed animals and other people for her baby to survive. Also, before Michael died, the scenes were brightly lit and the atmosphere was of a positive one. But when he died, everything turned gloomy and dark. It only turned bright again in the end, when we see Grace still alive (and teething) with Madeline and Patricia.

Grace is a film that shows the hardships of being a mother. It isn’t easy being one. In the film, Madeline had to give up a lot of sacrifices in order for her baby to survive. She was always under some sort of pressure, telling her that she should do this, she should do that. Grace was her first baby. And despite all of these trials, she managed to stand firm and fight for her baby. Even if the manner of doing so was very unconventional and immoral.

Source: Barbara Creed, “Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002)

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