In the film Mildred Pierce, there are a lot of underlying themes that are left to interpretation to the spectators. I would like to emphasis on the theme of materialism that is present in the film and bring up the argument that a parallel connection exists between Mildred’s transformation and the change that desire of money has on an individual. Through the narrative of the film one will realize that there is a development of all the characters especially that of Mildred. From the beginning of the film when the first flashback occurs Mildred is self-described as only knowing two things, the kitchen and cleaning. Mildred’s transformation in the film goes from a docile housewife to a business owning entrepreneur. When Bird losses his job Mildred forces herself to bake cakes to make money, to get her kids the things that they want. From the beginning, Mildred already had a materialistic view of the world. Throughout the film her desire for money will continue to grow.
The key point in the film that can be interpreted as separating the “old” Mildred from the “new” Mildred is when her youngest daughter, Kay, dies from pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection due to viruses or bacteria that inhibits the lungs of a person. Out of the many ways that Kay could have died it can be interpreted that the death by pneumonia is correlated with the desire of money that is growing within Mildred. Before the death of Kay, Mildred was still struggling financially and had not been able to make the promise she made to her children come true. After the death of Kay, Mildred was able to successfully launch her restaurant and it leads her to become a successful business owner because of the desire that kept growing within her to make as much money as she could.
The change in the way that Mildred dresses in the film provides visual conformation to the audience on how Mildred is evolving. In the image above it shows Mildred dressed in colloquial clothing that your typical housewife would wear. The contrast of her clothing is lighter than that of Bird and can be interpreted to be more of blue-collared work attire. This is before the death of Kay which can be understood as the point of paradigm shift for Mildred. Mildred does desire to make but only enough for a new dress for her daughter. She will eventually desire to have it all.
The image above depicts Mildred after her transformation. She no longer wears the colloquial clothing of a housewife but has changed her clothing style to that of a business man. The colors of the clothes that she wears after the death of Kay are a darker shade than of her previous attire. She is being portrayed as a business woman and the perception that was once had of her is lost in her new attire.
Through my interpretation Mildred transformed because of the continual desire to have more and more money. Mildred’s desire to obtain more wealth grew after the death of Kay and through the death of Kay Mildred changed into a woman that did everything that was possible to obtain the wealth that she once promised her daughters. From the death of Kay came a new version of Mildred. Mildred no longer had to bake cakes to pay her bills but owned a successful chain of restaurants.
Mildred Pierce. Dir. Michael Curtiz. Perf. Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott. Warner Bros., 1945. Film.