Icons / August 2016

Mum's The Word

As our examination of eminence grise continues, we explore the enduring attraction of the older woman…
The iconic Mrs Robinson played by Anne Bancroft in The Graduate, 1967.

He may be the first to spring to mind, but Pulp Fiction’s Jules Winnfield certainly isn’t the only bad mother f*cker in cinematic history. Hell no, mofo. Over the past half-century, the silver screen has seen more than its fair share of hot mamas and semi-Oedipal fellas ready to show the kind of love that scarcely features on Mother’s Day cards.

Though ‘Stifler’s Mom’ in the wince-inducing American Pie films is generally accepted as the wellspring of the 'MILF' appellation, it was Anne Bancroft’s character in 1967 Mike Nichols' movie The Graduate that really got the mother-f*ckin’ ball rolling.

Immortalised in song by Simon & Garfunkel, Mrs Robinson (koo-koo-ka-choo) seduces the film’s titular college-leaver, played by Dustin Hoffman, into a summer-long affair, before making his life a misery when his affections switch to her daughter. Although (spoiler alert!) Hoffman’s character ends up with the younger Robinson woman (or does he…?), it was the image of the rapacious mother that would linger in the collective consciousness, Bancroft going through the rest of her life exasperated that she’d be forever remembered as the quintessential cougar. (Despite the fact that, aged 35 at the time of filming, Bancroft was actually only six years older than Hoffman.) “I'm just a little dismayed that people aren’t beyond it yet,” she said some years later. Rightly so.

Sixties classic Belle de Jour saw her play a minxy young housewife hooker, but by 1983, at 40 years of age, Catherine Deneuve was of a suitable vintage to portray the older (much, much older) vampire lover of an ill-fated David Bowie in The Hunger. Though the two are married in the film, and like Hoffman and Bancroft, only a handful of years separated their ages, there’s a definite mother-son dynamic to the couple’s relationship — Deneuve’s character having literally given Bowie’s life. (Horrible, accursed eternal life, as it turns out.)

A young Susan Sarandon enjoys a memorable blood-sugar-sex-magik lesbian tryst with Deneuve in The Hunger (watch it here, if you so desire) morphing five years later into the role of experienced elder lover, showing a young buck baseballer 12 years her junior the ways of the world in 1988’s Bull Durham. That year, Sarandon would marry the actor playing her Bull Durham toy-boy, Tim Robbins, bearing him two children shortly thereafter.

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Christian Barker

Christian Barker is The Rake's Asia editor-at-large, a frequent contributor to this site, and an enthusiastic consumer of fine whiskies, sashimi and classic disco music - ideally in unison.