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Understanding mother's terms

The duality of mother-daughter relationships, the antagonism and sometimes grudging affection, has never been essayed so vividly on screen as in Terms of Endearment.

Published May 13, 2006

[Times files]
Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger in Terms of Endearment.
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Aurora Greenway is the mother you're embarrassed to claim, and the only person you'd need on your side in a pinch. She is fiercely, neurotically devoted to her daughter Emma from crib to deathbed in Terms of Endearment, played to perfection by the steeliest of all magnolias, Academy Award winner Shirley MacLaine.

Aurora's terms that Emma (Debra Winger) is expected to follow aren't endearing. Her maddening habit of always being right and dismissive of being wrong doesn't help. Each woman stops a bit short of what they need to say to each other, and goes too far saying things they don't.

"I'm totally convinced if you marry Flap Horton tomorrow, it will be a mistake of such gigantic proportions, it will ruin your life and make wretched your destiny," Aurora tells Emma, who doesn't listen and lives to hear about it. Aurora's dedication to Emma is caustic but unquestioned, from the film's opening shot of a new mom obsessively checking for signs of crib death to a teary cancer ward goodbye.

The duality of mother-daughter relationships, the antagonism and sometimes grudging affection, has never been essayed so vividly on screen. Men in Terms of Endearment are wise to stay out of their way while working it out.

MacLaine makes Aurora an uncontrollable force of motherly nature and nurture, with storm bands reaching out to make a randy astronaut boyfriend (Jack Nicholson) and a developmentally arrested son-in-law (Jeff Daniels) grow up a bit, and lead two grandsons on their first steps to manhood. She's maternally wired that way. We wonder what she gave up personally and professionally to give so much to others, even if her gifts are annoyingly unsolicited.

Aurora isn't Everymom but every Mom has some of her feisty, protective spirit inside. Most of all, the love that isn't always expressed the way children want to hear but is always genuine; mother's terms, our endearment.

[Last modified May 12, 2006, 14:57:11]

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