Coraline Jones is a young girl who lives in a flat with her parents who do not pay her the amount of attention she thinks she deserves. Bored with her parents, her odd neighbors, and the black cat that lives in their garden, Coraline discovers a secret door in the spare of room of her house. Though the inside of the door is bricked up when Coraline discovers it that night she returns to the room and finds that the door now leads down a purpley hallway to an apartment that looks exactly like her’s. Only it’s not. There she discovers her “Other Mother” and “Other Father” who look just like her real mother and father except they have black buttons for eyes. At first Coraline is delighted by this alternate world since everything and everyone in it seemingly caters to her every desire. The only one who doesn’t is the black cat who lives in the garden (he also is the only one without buttons for eyes because, in fact, he is the same black cat from Coraline’s world) who warns Coraline that things are not as good as they may seem. Sure enough things quickly begin to unravel for Coraline when her Other Mother attempts to remove Coraline’s eyes and replace them with buttons. Coraline tries to leave the Otherworld but is stopped as the Other Mother slowly begins to transform what was once a dreamy world into a living nightmare.
The “Other Mother” is also known as the Beldam and this is a late middle english word for a malicious, old and ugly women; specifically alluding to a witch. The beldam is a designed from the book and movie Coraline, written by Neil Gaiman and directed by Henry Selick. The Beldam is the main antagonist of Coraline’s story and is also known as the “other mother” by herself and Coraline. She is a demonic half witch, half spider who appears with button eyes and rules the underworld. Her goal is to kidnap the children who move into the Pink Palace apartments and eat their lives so she can imprison their souls. The reason she is called the “other mother” is because she frequently disguises herself as her victims mothers in order to gain power and trust. If you haven’t caught on by now, the other mother is terrifyingly mean, “She will take your life and all you are and all you care’st for, and she will leave you with nothing but mist and fog. She’ll take your joy. And one day you’ll wake up and your heart and soul will be gone” (Gaiman). She is described in this passage as evil in a nutshell, which is fitting because in literature we usually see witches paired or associated with evil.
The appearance of the Beldam in the book is described as, “black tar with human origins” (Gaiman). However, in the movie she changes multiple times, exposing herself to have three forms and the last one being her most true form. In the movie she disguises herself as Mel Jones, which is Coraline Jones mother and in this first appearance she looks almost identical to Mel Jones except that she has a better hairstyle, looks less tired, and of course has the button eyes. Her voice is soft-spoken and she uses alluring language to draw in Coraline’s attention.
In her second true form, she transforms into a larger version of herself and this time with an exaggerated boney look. Her body structure is accentuated, from her giraffe long neck to her increasingly pointy nose. She looks symbolic of someone who is on their way to death. Her voice turns loud and raspy and her lipstick turns from a shiny red to a dull black. In her third and final appearance, she is spurred on into this transformation by becoming extremely angry with Coraline’s words, “You are not my mother, you evil witch” (Selik). This time she grows bigger, thinner, uglier, her clothes rip away from her body in a ragged and sharp way. Now instead of being skeletal, her bones turn into needle like edges and she crawls around like a spider. Her senses become heightened, now reliant on vibration waves to tell her where her prey (Coraline) is.
The “Other Mother” is a terrifying creature because she is completely manipulative and very convincing at what she does. At one point in the movie she tells Coraline, “Whatever would I have done with your old parents? If they left you, Coraline, it must because they became bored with you, or tired. Now, I will never become bored with you, and I will never abandon you. You know that I love you” (Selik). Coraline’s response to the mother saying this is quite surprising and mature, she nods her head in agreement. The Other Mother does love Coraline, but she doesn’t love her in an unconditional maternal way, she loves her in a “I get to enjoy this” kind of way. The Beldam looks at children and her world around her and sees all the ways she can manipulate and control them. And this is a kind of love that ends up destroying people and life because manipulation will never get you the true love you want. The Other Mother exploits the complete naivety of children promising them a perfect world where they are the center of attention. The Other Mother is pretty good at creating a replica of Coraline’s world, only its originality is slightly lacking because she makes the Otherworld smaller and a heck of a lot more amusing. These details tell us a lot about the Beldam because she doesn’t truly understand anything about family or friendship. She doesn’t make the Otherworld big because it’s not actually supposed to be enjoyable for a long time, it’s meant to be a trap – not a great life she’s created for herself because she too has to live in her trap, just as a spider does.
The point of sewing buttons onto her victims eyes is quite symbolic. The idea of sewing buttons onto the eyes to reflect the dolls that represent the victim then becomes symbolically clear with the common phrase in both the movie and the book, “the eyes are the window into the soul.” Once they are covered up they become trapped and it reinforces the connotation that buttons signify restriction. In Neil Gaiman’s vision buttons for eyes also had this implicative gallows humor given how dead behind the eyes everyone looks, which is darkly quite literal in the movie and that fundamentally works in conjunction with the world presented in the fantasy. It’s this wonderous beautiful place, yet its strikingly hollow on the inside. There is a willingness to accept a rather dull reality because when something seems all too perfect it become inherently deceptive and untrustworthy.
Cohen’s Monster Culture these provides readers with a description of how monster take form and what tactics they use to best haunt us non-monsters. I would describe the Other Mother/Beldam to take on thesis one, thesis three, and thesis six as her main point of destruction. Thesis one is the monster’s body is a cultural body and the Other Mother signifies this thesis because she’s always taking on the desires of children in their real world so she can trap them in her alternate world. She gets a hold of their lives through the pink palace and the creation of their look-alike doll and uses their fear of abandonment and lack of attention to allure and trap them. Thesis three is monster’s are the harbinger of category crisis because they don’t fit neatly into any one category and they are often defy logic with their hybrid qualities. We see this in the Beldam because she transforms into three different beings, the other mother, the skeletal being, and the spider witch. It seems impossible for the Beldam to be a witch, a spider, a shapeshifting entity that can take on the roll of multiple, but the souls of the other children allow her to do so. Thesis six is the fear of monster’s is really kind of desire. All children need the love of their parents but the Other Mother’s love is a devouring love that kills by taking away their sense of self (or soul). That’s why she’s so insistent that the children she takes never leave her. However, she can’t take Coraline’s eyes without Coraline’s permission. That’s why she creates an enticing trap, to get Coraline to make the exchange.
Coraline is noninvasive from a thematic perspective, The Other Mother sells you on the idea of what fear can be to the imagination of a young developing mind and in many ways what purpose fear can have on our perception of life. With Coraline, it’s the wise and attentive attitude of her character that carries the story for what is a simplistic but intriguing journey where she doesn’t see things as a given but rather comes to the realization that some things are just too good to be true.