Week 1: Mama

Ari and I spent some time talking about what our biggest fears were before we turned on our film of choice. The supernatural seemed to be a recurring theme and fittingly so, our movie of choice was ‘Mama’. A story in which two young girls are lost in the woods for most of their childhood and raised by an unknown spiritual entity who follows the girls into their new home with their uncle and his girlfriend. We were both expecting to be surprised by quick scares, things suddenly popping into frame, as well as suspenseful moments. As we began the film we did not try to analyze the story, we simply watched subjectively and waited to jump out of our seats.
After finishing the movie I realized how many subliminal messages were hidden within this less than two-hour film. Weather it was designed to or not, one thing became clear to me; many americans are afraid of mental illness. As the story began to unravel we learned that ‘Mama’ was actually the haunting spirit of a mentally unstable woman who murdered a nun and stole her child from the convent, only to leap to her death as the towns people chased after her. I began to think about which parts of the movie, beyond the simple scare tactics of an evil face quickly coming into the frame, actually were scary to the audience. The story of the ghost of Mama became the backbone to what actually made it a scary story; a mentally unstable and violent woman who kidnapped her child from a convent causing both of their deaths. Would the story have still be equally as scary if Mama was actually just the ghost of an average woman who lived an average life? I believe the answer to that question is no. The fact that this ghost was mentally unstable and unpredictable was cause for the audience to be uncomfortable with her.
Was this a conscious effort from the creators of the film? I think the director and writer purposely chose to base their character off of something that even through modern medicine is not particularly well understood. Mental disorders are a thing that not many americans understand much about. Or history of mental institutions is a long and violent one, where people who were different were tortured, neglected, and even killed all for the fact that they were different than the average person. People were scared of them, people were scared the unknown, of difference. Although society has progressed beyond the stigma of asylums in the 1800’s and beyond, this movie is living proof that the fear and insecurity towards those with mental disorders is still very prevalent today.