“Brave” part II: the radical rewriting of the mother-daughter relationship

16 July 2012

If you’ve been paying attention to the critics, they’ve been preoccupied with two things about Brave: whether Merida (Kelly MacDonald) is gay, and whether we ought to complain that Pixar’s first girl-oriented film still makes its heroine be a princess.

And thus they miss the point. The radical thing about this film is that it up-ends the mother-daughter relationship in film.

There is nothing more overdetermined than the mother-daughter relationship in film. So many of them are fraught in predictable ways that assume all manner of things about middle-aged→ older women and their younger counterparts. Take a look at children’s film and it only gets more extreme. All those wicked stepmothers in fairy tales set the stage for the kind of mother trouble we see. (No wonder so many films kill off mothers right away; I’m lookin’ at you, Bambi.) How can the girl/ young woman thrive if her mother is still there being bossy and/or needy?

Which is why Brave is so cool. It starts from a fraught mother-daughter situation and then up-ends the trope entirely. It’s fantastic.

I’m not going to spoil it for you — the film is too delightful for spoilers — but let me say that Brave is also somehow about narratives and tropes in a way that The Neverending Story (1984) was. It’s meta, but only meta in ways that offer 10-yr-old kids a little bit more than their younger siblings will get, and offer parents a kind of delicious message on their own. It’s not ironic, reference-laden meta like my new favorite show Community. It’s refreshing.

The ways that Merida and her mother (Emma Thompson) have to change … well, that narrative ultimately says something about how just as stories can trap us into a hoary set of conventional outcomes, so they can also free us.

I love the way the film shows Merida’s father and his buddies all sitting around drinking, telling stories about great (past) adventures, while Merida and her mother are off having an actual adventure that changes everything. Fantastic.

One Response to ““Brave” part II: the radical rewriting of the mother-daughter relationship”

  1. Thank you for this! I felt the exact same way about Brave.

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