History Films, Women, and Freud's Uncanny

By Susan E. Linville | Go to book overview

Chapter Two
STANDING PAT
The First Lady in Oliver Stone’s Nixon

Why, Love forswore me in my mother’s womb:
And, for I should not deal in her soft laws,
She did corrupt frail nature with some bribe,

To disproportion me in every part,
Like to a chaos, or an unlick’d bear-whelp
That carries no impression like the dam.

III Henry VI, 3.2.153–155, 160–162

America cannot stand pat.

Richard M. Nixon

Shakespeare’s Richard, Duke of Gloucester, calls up the folkloric belief that bears are born shapeless lumps of fur, to be “licked into shape” by their mothers, and this future Richard III likens his misshapenness to that of an unlicked cub, disfigured by maternal neglect. The cinema of Oliver Stone is replete with images of bad mothering, and this one seems most suggestive for Nixon (1995), a film that portrays the thirty-seventh president (played by Anthony Hopkins) as first and foremost a victim, not only of maternal silence and neglect, but also of psyche-deforming maternal tongue-lashings and verbal lickings.1 Had it not been for his early, crippling experiences, the film argues, this World War II veteran and quintessential cold warrior might have succeeded in greatly reducing the arms race and limiting the threat of global war; indeed, might have served out his second term as president and speeded the cold war to a conclusion. Even in the absence of those accomplishments, documentary footage of Nixon’s funeral at the end of

-67-

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