Despite its great effects and beautiful graphics, the movie “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” sends a wrong message.
(Warning: this blog post is deeply personal, dark and sad, and may trigger bad memories of victims of abusive relationships. But I need to write it for my own healing, and would be exceedingly grateful if it could help even just one person who suffered or might suffer from intimate abuse.)
The movie “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” was made from the perspective of a teenage girl Katie, who had a strained relationship with her father Rick. After a series of robotic sci-fi magic, they finally reconciled.
Rick was an emotionally abusive and narcissistic father (and his wife an enabler of his abusive behavior), but the movie made it clear that the daughter and the father were equally to blame for the tension between them. There was no deep introspection or apology from the parents’ end. What angered me was not only the lack of reflection in the movie (the writers genuinely thought the daughter was partly to blame), but also the overwhelmingly positive reception from the audience. Most reviews were positive and laudatory, and my reaction was in the minority.
This reddit post was one of the few I found that agreed that the message of the movie was problematic. The post summarized the father’s narcissist behavior in the movie very well, and here are just some examples:
- The father always neglected his daughter’s aspirations and dreams. He refused to watch the movies she made, in which she shared her wish to connect with her dad but never felt supported by him.
- The daughter, eager to start afresh with new friends in college, was shocked to find out that her dad cancelled her flight ticket last-minute, and instead wanted to drive her to college on a family road trip. She had to miss orientation because of her dad’s impulsive decision, but her mom nudged her to comply to keep her dad happy.
- Frustrated and disappointed, the daughter felt emotional distance from her dad. But the daughter was also made to feel guilty for keeping the distance and not wanting to do what her dad imposed on her.
The correct message that the movie should have sent is: no child is to blame for a strained relationship with parents. The parents should be 100% responsible because they are the adults in the relationship (even after their children become adults). Only shitty parents count on their children to make them happy. Only shitty parents expect their children to revolve around them and cater to their needs, rather than the other way around. Only shitty parents show their disappointment when their kids feel uncomfortable and want to keep a distance. Every child starts out welcoming their parents with open arms. Every child sees their parents as heroes. A child will prosper and reciprocate when showered with love. But when their beloved parents are narcissistic and send conflicting signals, the child will be sensitive and confused, and want to sometimes keep a distance to protect themselves. How can a child be held responsible for that? But shitty parents will make the child feel guilty because then they wouldn’t need to carry the moral blame themselves (“gaslighting”). This movie is therefore an accomplice in the gaslighting by narcisstic parents toward their children.
The reason for my anger at the movie is deeply personal: I dated someone who grew up with an abusive dad and an enabling mom, and I suffered indirectly from their abuse through the abuse that my ex-boyfriend did to me. Importantly, my ex-boyfriend was still not aware of (or couldn’t face) the fact that his dad was abusive. Instead, he lived in constant guilt because he thought he was to blame for being emotionally distant from his parents.
I am angry at the movie because there are numerous children like my ex-boyfriend who still live in guilt for their emotional distance from their parents. This movie reinforces their guilt, and perpetuates the generational abuse that narcissistic parents do to their children (and those children will do to their own children and partners, if they never reflect on it and break out of the cycle).
My ex-boyfriend’s family is a near replication of the family in the movie, except for the older child’s sex (my ex-boyfriend is the younger son in a family with two children). The narcissistic father is obviously sinful, which the reddit post has said enough about. I want to discuss the neglected characters in the movie – the mother and the little brother. What the movie does not show but I want to fill in is: the mother is an accomplice in the abuse who sacrifices her children to please her husband, and who fails to set an example of bravery to her children. The little brother (if he does not reflect and break out of the pattern) will grow up to be a coward who is afraid to stand up to anyone with authority, but at the same time will become a narcissistic abuser (just like his father) in intimate relationships.
The mother indulged the father’s narcissism by encouraging her kids to play along to keep their dad happy. Such a mother has a weak character and no confidence, or else she would stand up to her husband and protect her kids from him. Therefore, she must be weak and a pushover in her own intimate relationship with her husband. In the end of the movie, the mother miraculously became a violent killing machine. This is what the children wished their mother to be – someone who, out of everyone, could stand up to her husband – but in reality she could never be that brave.
The younger brother grew up witnessing all the trouble his rebellious and frustrated older sibling created for his parents, and vowed to never be a trouble-maker. He never saw any example of courage; all he saw was his mother’s silent tolerance of his dad’s abusive behavior. As a result, he grew up putting on a show for his parents and playing the role of the perfect son and stellar student that he never really was. Deep down, he was an imposter who was constantly worried that someone would find out he was a fake. He didn’t dare to stand up to anyone with authority because they reminded him of his father, and no one ever stood up to the father in the family. As a result, he bottled up all the stress he had from interactions with superiors and people he wanted to please, and lashed it out on his own family because that’s how his dad did it, and all he knew. The victim of abuse eventually grew up to be an abuser himself. He was someone who, paradoxically, deserved both sympathy and despise.
Thus, the cycle perpetuates itself, partly fueled by a culture lacking awareness and reflection like the one underlying this movie.