The Others (the Mothers)

The Others

The Mothers

This, for today’s postmodern feminist, is the nightmare known as motherhood.


In South Carolina, Susan Smith drowns her two boys by buckling their seatbelts and pushing the car into a lake. In Texas, Andrea Yates kills all five of her children by individually submerging them in the family bathtub until there are no more bubbles.

We go numb with horror. We can't explain it to ourselves, or each other. Our minds reel as we cast about for a thread, a shred, a clue, anything to begin to explain how this sort of thing could happen. In the end, our hopes for understanding are overcome by the daily continuity of lesser, smaller tragedies. We console ourselves by going to the movies. We go see The Others.

But there she is onscreen, resurrected before our eyes, just as the ACLU and NOW wanted us to imagine her: a single woman, abandoned by her husband, forced into the slavery of motherhood for two children who, thanks to their chemical photosensitivity to light, are literally never allowed outside, and thus, live out their days trapped inside a sprawling mansion with the curtains closed. To heighten the sense of total separation from all of society, the house is located on an island in a channel that is rarely visited. This, for the postmodern feminist of today, is the nightmare known as motherhood.

Like all mothers who must eventually go insane from the soul-sucking drudgery of domestic life, this one must fit every single stereotype that the culture's advanced stages of feminism have concocted: She must be deeply religious; she must homeschool her children; she must obsessively teach them nothing but the Bible; she must be a strict disciplinarian; she must employ extreme measures to elicit obedience from her demonic spawn. Her efforts at controlling her children's actions and thoughts seem to serve no other purpose than allowing her to maintain her coiffure, to be ready at a moment's notice to join the outside world should anyone decide to come calling. But they don't, and life at the mansion gets creepier and more loathsome by the day.

Just as liberal editorials everywhere expressed sympathy for Andrea Yates with the reasoning that going insane and killing her kids was a perfectly normal response to the difficulty of domestic life (Five kids! Is that legal?), so too are we meant to sympathize with Nicole Kidman's character when we discover that she has smothered her brood with a pillow. Grace's pro-choice stance allows her to mercifully remove her children from the land of the living after realizing that her husband isn't coming back from the war. These murders at least put the youth back in euthanasia, but aren't psychologically that far off from Susan Smith's reasoning that her kids needed to die because the man she now loved didn't want "a ready made family." In both cases, the higher love of someone or something else is more than sufficient to justify the suffering of little children.

The satisfying twist at the end of The Others is that everyone we see in the film, up until the last ten minutes, is already dead. What looks like the living and the dead interacting with each other turns out, at the very end, to be simply the interaction of the recently deceased with the less recently deceased, who then interact with the living. In a reverse version of The Sixth Sense, it is the ghosts who now exclaim, "I see live people!"

Ultimately, The Others is aware that even the most advanced stages of ultra-feminism can't provide enough explanatory power to successfully answer the question of why some mothers kill their children. In the end, the only thing that seems plausible is a supernatural explanation. As Andrea Yates said to her brother, she thought Satan possessed her. Since that possibility is both so seventies and so clichéd from Hollywood's marketing point of view, we are given a secular version of demonic possession as a sort of happy ghost story, in which the house is haunted by the unhappily dead former occupants. Undead spirits haunt the next generation of undead spirits who will haunt the living.

That is, this house is haunted by inexplicable deaths all the way back into the mists of time, and you will never fully understand why, so please simply get out now! The happy ending is that Mr. and Mrs. Marlish and their only son, Victor, do not buy the property that is for sale.

And thus, what starts off as a film exploring the possible internal reasons for true madness, turns out in the end to be nothing more than a real estate nightmare. It is an explanation of insanity wrapped inside an exploration of the perennial problem of those who must sell the homes of the formerly insane to the not yet insane. Just ask the folks who bought the Klebold and Harris mansions, the Yates home, the Smith house. They're not crazy; after all, they bought these places at way under market value.

Or at least, they're not crazy yet . . .

posted by editor ::: November 09, 2001 ::: philms :::