Academic journal article Style

Martyring Veda: Mildred Pierce and Family Systems Theory

Academic journal article Style

Martyring Veda: Mildred Pierce and Family Systems Theory

Article excerpt

"A mother's love leads to murder"--the Warner Brothers's tagline for the 1945 film Mildred Pierce immediately implicates leading character Mildred Pierce as the culprit for the murder her daughter, Veda Pierce, commits. Indeed, many viewers may believe the film condemns Mildred's brand of motherhood, illustrating her sacrifices for her daughter as being not only in vain, but also to blame for Veda's murderous actions. Mildred's relationship with and to Veda is, in fact, a matter of great scholarly debate, and though theories as to the film's "message" and/or moral abound, Mildred Pierce often gains consideration as a film that depicts the futility of seeking to achieve the American Dream--or, more accurately, a film that presents the futility for women who seek to achieve the Dream. Indeed, the film does seemingly present this futility in its depiction of leading character Mildred in that if such success requires pulling oneself up by the bootstraps, then Mildred clearly cannot attain such success, for she has no bootstraps--she wears high heels.

What, though, of Veda Pierce? Veda's role within the film and the motivation behind her avarice likely leaves viewers searching for explanations for her seemingly inherent malicious nature and hostility toward her doting mother. Though Veda has gained consideration in terms of her importance for capitalism and patriarchy, such theories fail to consider Veda's role within her family and the impact of that role on her behavior. For, considering Veda in a different, more sympathetic regard--as a triangulated child via Family Systems Theory (FST)--allows the viewer to gain considerable insight into her character, motivation, and drive; FST also endows us with increased insight into the depiction of the Pierces and the importance of their family system within the film. Forced into the role of triangulated child, Veda's psychological growth is stunted, and thus she fails to achieve differentiation of self due to her father's lack of involvement and her mother's over-involvement in her life; Veda is emotionally crippled by her role within the Pierce family system, and thus she may be viewed as its martyr rather than as a villain.

Before delving into the discussion of Mildred Pierce and FST, it may be helpful to first include a brief overview of the plot for readers unfamiliar with the film. The 1945filmic version of Mildred Pierce presents the adaptation of James Cain's novel of the same name; the film, though, differs significantly from Cain's novel. Though the basic plotline remains intact, the film contains an added murder mystery, noir flashback style, and voiceover narration not present within the novel. Both film and novel, though, present the dissolution of the marriage of Mildred and Bert Pierce. After their separation, Mildred is left alone to raise and support her two daughters. She surprisingly attains immense success in this endeavor by opening a chain of restaurants that prove to be quite lucrative. Through her success, Mildred is able to acquire for her daughters the material resources she could not attain when she was married. Mildred acts as narrator throughout much of the film, commenting on and explaining different events within the film, and in fact one of her primary claims is her reasoning for her hard work (and her success): she repeatedly emphasizes that she worked tirelessly not for herself, but rather for her children, particularly her eldest daughter--Veda. After the death of younger daughter, Kay, Mildred's drive to provide Veda with material wealth escalates considerably. Veda, however, is never satisfied with the material possessions Mildred attains for her, and in fact seemingly proves herself to be quite the villain: she slaps and insults the mother who seems to live solely to please her, she pretends to be pregnant by husband Ted Forrester in order to bilk his family of $10,000, and she has an affair with--and murders--her mother's second husband. …

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