To be a woman in society is something that is often frowned upon by those who favor the patriarchy. Women are oftentimes treated as second-rate citizens, sometimes, even as objects to be used by the men that surround them. Despite this, there is one type of woman who somehow transcends this category – the Mother. Mothers hold a special place in our society, as the women who gave birth to, raised, and ultimately create a special bond with her children. Given this, there seems to be a special respect or authority given to the mother, despite the patriarchal society she lives in.
This idea is in full play in the film Grace (dir. Paul Solet, 2009), where different types of motherhood, their experiences of loving for their children, are portrayed mainly by the two mothers, Madeline, and her mother-in-law, Vivian. Both mothers are equally invested in their children; Madeline, after a car accident, gave birth to a stillborn baby and kept her ‘alive.’ On the other hand, there was Vivian, whose son (Madeline’s husband) also died and wanted the best for her grandchild. And to an extent, both mothers went to crazy odds to be able to sustain the life of the grandchild – a testament of their undying love, no matter the circumstance that they faced.
This phenomenon experienced by the two women can be explained using Barbara Creed’s writing, Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine: An Imaginary Abjection. In this theory, women, especially mothers can tend to be a monstrous-feminine person – going towards things that shock, terrify and ultimately, abject. In this case, both mothers are seen to be monstrous-feminine, them who both disturb what is normal, and blurs that line of order. Present in the film as well is the concept of abjection, which involves abominations and perversions in what is supposedly status quo. In this case, the mother herself becomes a monster, as both Madeline and Vivian go far above and beyond what is deemed to be normal as they compete with each other (in life and death), both for Michael and for the custody of Grace, the baby. This abjection also involves an abjection of fluids, specifically bodily fluids such as poop, urine, puking, and blood. The presence of these fluids, which serve not only as visual elements, but as part of the narrative itself. As Creed puts it, the presence of the abjection of bodily fluids “signify a split between two orders: the maternal authority and the law of the father,” thus threatening what ins normal, what is proper in the eyes of society,
The concept of the film is not entirely new, with several horror films already utilizing the idea of having troubles with an evil spawn-like child. The film Grace reminded me the most of the famous Filipino lore of the tiyanak, that which has been adapted into several films. One of the iconic adaptations of the tiyanak in Philippine media is Tiyanak (dirs. Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes, 1988) which featured the story of Julie (Janice de Belen) finding an abandoned child and keeping it as her own, against all the suspicions and warnings of the people around her. Similar to Madeline, Julie followed her maternal instincts, protecting her ‘child’ from anything and everything that seemed to disagree with her plans for it. Eventually, it is confirmed that the child is indeed the demon-like creature, out to kill everyone around it. It was very interesting to be reminded of that popular piece of Filipino pop culture as I was watching Grace, because it shows the universality of the monstrous-feminine, the mother as abject, whether it be set in the Philippines, or adapted into a more Western-oriented piece of work.
Aside from featuring the maternal feature of abject, hints of queerness are also presented in the film. The implied relations between Madeline and her midwife Patricia, can also be seen as a way of delineating and blurring the lines of what is normal. It is only hinted at in the beginning, but the relationship is deepened and portrayed fully at the end of the film. This perversion in showing the taboo of a lesbian relationship, with Madeline previously married to a man, threatens the very normalcy of what it means to be a woman, and a mother.
Womanhood, particularly motherhood, is an experience that is very complex – something that you can only ever understand when you become one. And the shoes of a mother are what the film Grace tries to us in on: the perversities and the nuances of a mother’s love, despite all the obstacles and struggles she experiences.
Reference: Barbara Creed, “Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002)