In the midst of making our lists of the worst and best mothers in horror (and non-horror) one name kept floating about with nowhere to land, Dolores Claiborne (KATHY BATES). She didn’t belong with the bad mothers because at the end of the day, her actions were not evil or selfish in anyway, but she didn’t belong with the “nice” mommies either because well, she’s Dolores Claiborne, a cantankerous old woman who, by her own admission, is “half past give a shit.” It was all quite the dilemma until I watched the movie again and realized that Delores needed to be where she would naturally feel the most comfortable…alone. Is DOLORES CLAIBORNE even a horror film? We are talking STEPHEN KING here if that means anything. Let’s just chalk it up as a gothic ghost story because Dolores and her daughter Selena (JENNIFER JASON LEIGH) are truly haunted. They are haunted by a past that includes a severely abusive husband and father and, as BONNIE TYLER might say, a total eclipse of the heart.
As anyone who has seen MISERY knows, KATHY BATES is an imposing force of nature on screen, yet the baggage she brings from that previous portrayal of a STEPHEN KING character is best dropped at the door. This isn’t a sideshow and if you bought your ticket in hopes of seeing the neighborhood witch foam at the mouth, you’re sure to walk home sad and dejected, kicking tin cans. Sure, good old Annie Wilkes has her charms but as far as depth goes, Dolores makes her look like a paper cut out doll. Dolores may drink from a bottle of scotch clearly marked BLACK & WHITE, but morality here is presented as anything but. Could she have made better decisions in her life? Sure, but that just includes her in a club called “human.” Dolores doesn’t enjoy what she has to do, but just like her elaborate maid duties for the persnickety Vera Donavan (JUDY PARFITT), she rolls up her shirt sleeves and plows ahead. Murder may not be a very popular(or legal)choice for solving a problem, but worrying about public perception is a luxury Dolores can’t afford.
More fascinating then her relationship with the daughter that never bothered to look beyond Dolores’ acerbic exterior, is the one she shares with her employer Vera, who spurs on Dolores’ deed. Together, with conspiratorial glances, they share an acknowledgment of a male-dominated world and decide that in order to survive, it is sometimes necessary to draw outside the lines (read kill). Before the film’s end, Dolores does reveal all to her daughter who rightfully admits to not knowing how she feels about her mother’s actions. Serena does state though, that she understands that these actions were done for her. Is Dolores a kind of feminist hero? She herself would balk at such an idea. Her kind of unsung power is the type that we trample over everyday. She does not fulfill our image of what “strength” is. She doesn’t wear the right clothes or have the right haircut or weigh the right amount either. Her victories are not worn on her sleeve or used to advance her “up the ladder.” Everything she does is for her daughter, to keep her “safe and sound” and if that sacrifice is not properly recognized, then that just includes her in a club called “Mother” She is a worker with worker’s hands worn and cracking from the cold, living in a house that someone who does not know her story painted the word “BITCH” on. She’d paint over that word, but she’s learned that sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has to hold on to. She’s also learned that an “accident” can be an unhappy woman’s best friend. So, to Dolores Claiborne we say, “HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!” Your category bashing ways makes you perhaps the best Mother of them all and trust me, there’s no question that you could kick JOBETH WILLIAMS’ ass in hand-to-hand combat. BETSY PALMER, now that’s another story.