Week 2 Day 2 Discussion Question 2

Marina Heung situates Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, 1959) within the “rise-to-power” subgenre of the maternal melodrama (21-22).  How is Lora Meredith’s quest for professional success depicted in the film?  In a film titled “Imitation of Life,” is it significant that Lora’s chosen career is acting?

3 thoughts on “Week 2 Day 2 Discussion Question 2

  • February 21, 2022 at 2:44 pm
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    The depiction of Lora Meredith’s journey to success encapsulates fears of the future. In Heung’s writing she covers some of the fundamental issues characterized with female professional success at the time:

    “Through Annie, the film celebrates a specific maternal ideal while denigrating the type Lora represents.”

    This quotation particularly caught my interest as I was trying to place the film into an appropriate temporal context:

    https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/LNS11300002
    https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/LNS11300001

    Considering female labour-force participation during the 1950s and 60s compared to that of men, we see a stark contrast, one on the incline, one on a severe decline. At a time when women had access to professional training during the war as well as skills that, while indispensible, werent taught to men like typography– they were becoming an economic threat to the established way of doing things. the only approach to inhibit female workforce participation would be to increase responsibility at home. An increased imposition and severity placed on the necessity of the good housewife and mother was the approach that gave women a choice between their own success and profesisonal career whilst jeopardising “american values” at home.

    Why is it important that Lora is an actress?

    We are also seeing the rise of female celebrities such as Marilyn monroe, Elizabeth Taylor,Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn taking prominence not only for their juxtaposition to leading men but as icons in their own right. In their lifetimes each of these women were subjected to accusations of loose morals which, in my opinion, ties in well with this movie.

    Women proving their worth beyond the home in such a publically followed career had to be villified to maintain the status quo. Similar to Lora, many of these leading ladies we like to refer to today were brow beaten in the press for being poor wives and mothers– something that, although rare, has not disappeared. I saw this in the news this week:

    Kelly Clarkson responded to a mom-shamer who said her busy career was the reason “her marriage didn’t work” and told Kelly to be “the good old country girl we fell in love with.”

  • February 21, 2022 at 1:58 pm
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    In Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life, Lora’s quest for professional success is spun as a great disruption in the life of her daughter Susie, who bears the brunt of Lora’s neglect. At the beach, Lora is a mother characterized almost immediately as forgetful and erratic and whose later-revealed romantic dreams and ambitions compound her as one to be blamed. Lora’s chooses to become an actress and work in an industry regarded as frivolous and not one of real labor but rather play. Heung mentions that nobody really knows if Lora is even a talented actress but that ultimately it doesn’t matter because this narrative element is used instrumentally to undermine the legitimacy of Lora’s ambitions and capitalize off of popular notions of theatre and entertainment as trivial so that we, as an audience, are embittered by Lora. Steve raises concerns about Lora’s “careerism,” discouraging her from pursuing acting on the basis of the negligent parenting soon to follow, a prophecy that Lora would inevitably fulfill according to Susie. Lora commiserates with another actor about “something being missing in her success,” affirming the “conventional wisdom” that a woman rising to power will at some point misalign herself and become unhappy. This all transpires beside Annie, an attentive mother to Sarah Jane and Susie, which reifies the ‘bad mother’ archetype Lora occupies.

  • February 21, 2022 at 10:46 am
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    Marina Heung situates Douglas Sirk’s 1959 film, Imitation of Life, within the “rise-to-power” subgenre of the maternal melodrama — a logical choice given the film’s focus on the conflict that ensues when a mother chooses to prioritize her career ambitions over her domestic “obligations.” The film is a cautionary tale about the price paid for such decisions; through her quest to achieve theatrical fame and a luxurious lifestyle, Lora is consistently portrayed as neglecting her domestic duties and not paying adequate attention to her daughter Susie, causing her to yearn for her mother’s attention. In fact, this theme of how an inattentive mother poses a danger to her child is emphasized from the get-go, as Lora frantically searches for her missing daughter at Coney Island. But in addition to causing pain to Susie, Lora’s decision to pursue a career leaves her feeling hollow as well. The overall message of the film is therefore to question whether success is worth it for women if it comes at the expense of what truly matters, their families. The title of the film — which references the superficiality Lora’s career — drives this point home. Given Lora’s choice of such a superficial career, it seems even more ludicrous for her to have elected to give up her happy home. But even more cuttingly, the title suggests that women who pursue a career at the expense of motherhood will never be able to have a truly fulfilling or “real” life —their lives will always be mere imitations.

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