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|“||You may come out when you learn to be a loving daughter.||„|
|~ The Beldam "disciplining" Coraline whilst assuming a maternal figure in her delusion.|
The Beldam (also known as "The Other Mother" in her loving-mother disguise) is the main antagonist of Laika's 1st full-length animated feature film Coraline, which is based on the 2002 English dark fantasy children's novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman. She is the arch-enemy of Coraline.
She is the demonic button-eyed arachnoid ruler of the Other World. She kidnaps children who move into Pink Palace Apartments in attempt to devour their lives and imprison their souls, which allows her to live. She frequently disguises herself as her victims' mothers, hence her name as the Other Mother.
Differences Between Novel and Film
Unlike the film, the Beldam has human flesh in her true form, although her blood is described to be more like "black tar". Besides this, the Beldam recounts to Coraline about how she murdered her own mother and buried her alive in a grave, giving credence to the highly likely possibility that the Beldam has human origins. Her modus operandi is also slightly different as she does not use button-eyed ragdolls to lure victims into the Other World, which, in its true form, looks more like a child's sketchings rather than a spiderweb. None of the Beldam's past victims are related to Coraline whatsoever, forcing Coraline, along with the Cat, to fight the Beldam herself. Despite her evil, she displays some sense of honor, especially with the deal Coraline made with her before she pursued to find the ghost children's eyes. The Beldam of the novel is also less reliant on physical combat, preferring to use psychological manipulation, although she utilizes her hand, which Coraline severed in an intense confrontation, to stalk and torment her every night. Coraline finally defeats her, having already locked the wretched villainess in the Other World, by attracting the severed hand to a "picnic", involving a blanket that covers the top of an old well. The severed hand prepares to attack Coraline but as it lands on the blanket, it instantly crashed into the well, sealing the Beldam's doom.
The appearance of the Beldam (or the Other Mother) changes throughout the movie. It is said that in order to lure children and to consume their souls, she disguises herself as their mothers. In Coraline's case, she disguised herself as Mel Jones, Coraline's mother. In all of her appearances, she has button eyes (which were dropped by the Cat in the climax of the film).
In her first appearance, she looked identical to Mel Jones, but with better hairstyle, red lipstick and no bags under her button eyes. When she had a heated conversation with Coraline, and after she reveals her true colors to Coraline, she transformed into a longer and scarier version of herself, having an overall skeletal appearance. Also, her lipstick is now black instead of red.
After Coraline grabbed all of the three eyes of the Ghost Children, the Beldam is shown as a skeletal spider-like creature, which is also her true form. She stays in this form for the remainder of the movie.
|“||She spied on our lives, through the little doll's eyes, and saw that we weren't happy. So she lured us away, with treasures and treats, and games to play. Gave all that we asked, yet we still wanted more. So we let her sew the buttons. She said she loved us... but she locked us up here, and ate up our lives.||„|
|~ The ghost children explaining what the Beldam did to them.|
|“||You probably think this world is a dream come true... but you're wrong.||„|
|~ The Cat exposing the Beldam and the Other World.|
Under her disguise of her victims' mothers, the Beldam appears to be a very loving and charismatic maternal figure, especially for troubled children. Alluding to her archaic background, the Beldam speaks very eloquently, uses relatively old-fashioned language and seeks to maintain a traditional family through loving (this appears to be genuine at first) discipline. She is also very observant and vigilant of the problems and desires her victims have in the real world. Through this, she recreates the Other World into becoming their idealized dreamworlds.
The Beldam is highly skilled in the arts of motherhood. She is very good at cooking and sewing and is eager to play rough and daring games with her victims. Her creations are obedient to her ways and the Beldam frequently encourages them to do whatever they can to convince their victims to stay in the Other World forever. Even though her calm and composed demeanor can creep her victims out, the Beldam is extremely skillful in hiding her ulterior motives, no matter how intelligent or mature her victims are (i.e. Coraline). The Beldam frequently uses wordplay to disguise her ulterior motives and subtly taps her fingers every time to indicate this.
When her true nature is revealed, she instantly drops her loving maternal figure and becomes a cruel and authoritarian figure who is determined to do anything to consume her victims' flesh and souls, no matter how twisted and sadistic these measures are. This includes torturing her creations, especially those who genuinely care for the Beldam's victims, so that they could be driven to do things against their will, such as harming innocent children. She punishes her creations who are unwilling to harm others by mutilating and killing them.
Her sadism comes to its fullest effect when she gouges out her victims' eyes, sews buttons over it without anesthesia and consumes their flesh and souls until they become empty ghost-like shells. Though she has no qualms in relishing in savagery, the Beldam chooses to maintain her charisma by disparaging her victims in a sweet and motherly tone and an extremely condescending and sarcastic manner. Her love of games takes a darker turn as she challenges those who question her authority to participate in dangerous games to "prove" themselves. However, the Beldam is heavily implied to have planned these games from the very beginning and its presumed that she initially set these games up for her sadistic pleasure and boast about her power.
Despite preaching about how those who disobey must be harshly disciplined, the Beldam breaks the rules of her own games if they are inconvenient to her agenda. This is shown when she outright refuses to acknowledge that Coraline has won the "game" of finding the eyes of the Ghost Children despite previously agreeing (albeit reluctantly) to Coraline's deal of letting her go if she won. This is because without Coraline, she'd starve to death.
Perhaps her most distinctive trait is her "love". At first, the Beldam seems to genuinely love her victims, caring for them and giving them a world that they cannot afford in the real world. When she reverts to her true nature, the Beldam still loves her victims but in a much more perverted and disturbing way. Her love, thus, could be described as how as a parsimonious miser loves his gold or in a more serious and accurate comparison, how a child predator loves his/her victims, considering the ages of her victims.
Her twisted love is much more emphasized in the novel, where Coraline briefly gets Stockholm Syndrome by sympathizing (at the very slightest) and allowing her to care for her as if she were her daughter. It is very parasitic and she sees them as nothing but objects and pets, who are ready to be discarded if they "bore" her. Her self-centered love is eventually what causes her downfall as she seeks to destroy everything, including the world that she rules over, until she could get what she wants - Coraline's soul. To somehow prove that her "love" is all that her victims need, the Beldam convinces them that their parents have neglected and abandoned them and even induces hallucinations of this occurring.
Her origins are very vague and even what she really is, is unknown. However, the novel canon hints that the Beldam was formerly human, as evidenced when she recounted her childhood experience of burying her mother alive. The Beldam even appears to have normal human skin and body parts in her true form. In contrast, the film canon never mentions any of this and its assumed that she's a demonic arachnoid being whose body is mostly composed of sewing needles, except for her face which is made out of cracked porcelain.
The Beldam wields immense power over the Other World, a parallel dimension, which is in reality a gigantic spiderweb surrounded by a blank void. In the novel canon, the Other World in its true form resembles a drawing sketch created by a careless child. However, the Beldam can only twist and modify the Other World to her liking, implying that her powers have limitations or that she wasn't the true founder of the Other World. In relations to the real world, the Other World is located behind a small door in the living room of the Pink Palace Apartments in Ashland, Oregon. The only way to access it was by using a button key.
Reign of Terror
Around the 1850s, the Pink Palace Apartments was initially a mansion, inhabited by several different families. To sustain her existence, the Beldam seized the opportunity to lure in children to the Other World. In her sewing room, the Beldam created button-eyed ragdolls that resembled her chosen victim and sent them into the void outside. The doll would eventually reach to the real world, where her victim would unwittingly collect it. Through this, the Beldam was able to spy on their lives to find out what was wrong with it.
Once she had an overall idea on what her victim lacked in the real world, the Beldam modified the Other World into becoming a whimsical copy of the victim's real world, including its inhabitants, who also have button eyes and are entirely composed of sawdust. Sending her rats into the real world at night, her victim would wake up and follow them downstairs to the door in the living room. Crawling through a colorful corridor, the victim would meet the Beldam, under the disguise of their real mother. Entertained by the Other World's glamour, her victims would be offered the chance to stay here forever, under the condition that a pair of buttons will be sewn over their eyes. Her victims tended to accept the offer, considering how miserable their real life was, and after they accepted, the Beldam painfully gouged out their eyes, sewed buttons over it and consumed their flesh. The doll element is not included in the novel canon and the Beldam lures her victims immediately by sending out her rats, indicating her impatient nature.
Afterwards, the Beldam imprisoned their souls in a dark chamber behind a mirror and relied upon their "soul energy" to survive, which she often drained. She also hid their real eyes in marbles, the only way for their souls to pass onto the afterlife. The Beldam successfully kidnapped and killed several children in the past, including the Tall Ghost Girl, the Ghost Boy and the Sweet Ghost Girl. According to them, they have forgotten their birth names due to their prolonged imprisonment and thus, they are distinguished by these nicknames.
Encounter with Coraline Jones
The Pink Palace Apartments was eventually converted into an apartment by Mrs. Lovat, the Sweet Ghost Girl's twin sister. Fearing that more children would suffer a similar fate like her twin sister, Mrs. Lovat enforced a no child policy, which forbid couples with children from renting the apartment. She especially forbid her grandson Wybie from entering the apartment's premises and whenever he explored near the premises, she would often yell his name and demand him to return home.
In 2009, Charlie and Mel Jones, who have a daughter named Coraline, move from Pontiac, Michigan to Oregon, where they decide to stay at the Pink Palace Apartments, despite the no child policy (although it's theorized that Charlie and Mel simply forgotten to mention their daughter, considering how little they pay attention to her). Coraline frequently explores the apartment alone, especially the garden, due to her parents busily working on their gardening catalog. During her stay, Coraline encounters Wybie and a mysterious black cat, simply known as the Cat, and is annoyed at both of their presences. In reality, the Cat was trying to protect both Wybie and Coraline from the Beldam, due to his detailed knowledge of the Other World, which he can freely enter through various portals. Its also revealed that the Cat can speak, although this ability is restricted to the Other World. Because of this, the Beldam harbors immense hatred towards the Cat and desires to rid all cats, which she refers to as "vermin", from the Other World.
Despite the Cat's attempts, the Beldam retrieves the button-eyed ragdoll she used to lure the Sweet Ghost Girl and modifies it to resemble Coraline (its unknown why she didn't do the same for Wybie). The doll later ends up in Mrs. Lovat's trunk and discovering its eerie resemblance to Coraline, Wybie decides to give it to Coraline as a "gift". Initially creeped out, Coraline nevertheless plays with the doll whilst exploring the apartment. As Coraline explores the living room, she discovers that the doll lying in front of the small door by itself. Requesting her mother to unlock the door with the button key, Coraline is disappointed to discover that the door has been bricked up, most likely by Mrs. Lovat.
At night, Coraline is awaken by a group of rats, who lead her to the door downstairs. She discovers that the bricks have been replaced by a colorful corridor, which she curiously crawls through. In the Other World, Coraline meets the Beldam, currently under the disguise of Mel Jones. She finds her more warm and attentive than her real mother and eventually meets the rest of the button-eyed duplicates of her neighbors, including the Other Wybie, who is mute. Afterwards, the Beldam offers her a chance to stay in the Other World forever by giving her a present.
Coraline opens the present and discovers a pair of buttons, a spool of thread and a sewing needle. Realizing what this would gruesomely entail, Coraline refuses the offer and plans to return to home. She tries to leave the Other World in a non-suspicious manner but the Beldam already knows this and blocks all the exits to the real world. Eventually, Coraline confronts the Beldam in the living room to let her go home. However, the Beldam "disciplines" her by throwing her into the dark chamber behind the mirror. Inside, Coraline meets the ghosts of the Beldam's previous victims, who recount their stories and plead her to find their real eyes.
Coraline tearfully promises to find their real eyes moments before the Other Wybie drags her out of the chamber, whose mouth is stitched into a horrific grin by the Beldam for failing to smile. She relieves his injuries and despite being aware of what would happen to him, the Other Wybie sacrifices himself to assist Coraline in escaping, which is ultimately successful. The Beldam, however, overhears them downstairs and finds the Other Wybie, kills him and hangs his clothing on the flagpole on the apartment's rooftop.
Coraline enters the real world in time but finding out that her parents have been missing for the night, the Cat eventually reveals to her that they have been kidnapped by the Other Mother after Coraline discovers two button-eyed ragdolls that resemble her parents, stitched together to possibly taunt her over her loss. Coraline burns the doll furiously and arms herself with an adder stone that was given by her neighbors Ms. Spink and Forcible and follows the Cat's advice of challenging the Other Mother to a game, even if she didn't play fair.
Coraline promises her that if she wins, she would have to free her parents and the Ghost Children whilst if she loses, then she would have to sew buttons over her eyes and imprison her in the Other World forever. The Other Mother reluctantly accepts this deal and gives her clues of where the real eyes of the Ghost Children are located in the Other World moments before vanishing into thin air.
Coraline successfully manages to grab all the three eyes of the Ghost Children with the aid of the adder stone from the inhabitants of the Other World who appear in their true, twisted and demonic forms. As she plays the game, Coraline notices that the moon in the sky is gradually being covered by a shadow of a button to show much time she has left in the game. The inhabitants are killed after she grabs each eye from them as the surroundings around them turn into grey stone. During the game, Coraline notices that the Other Wybie's clothing are hung on the flagpole of one of the Others' apartments, hinting that the Other Mother has killed him for helping Coraline previously escape into the real world.
The Cat ultimately helps her in finding the real eye as the moon is completely covered by the shadow of the button as the Other World disintegrates into a blank void. Coraline and the Cat quickly enter the Other Pink Palace Apartments and shuts the door behind her in time as she sees the Other Mother, in her true arachnoid form, waiting for her in the living room.
The Other Mother then tells her that she must find her own parents in order to escape and burns the adder stone which Coraline used during the game into the fireplace. Realizing that the Other Mother has actually refused to acknowledge her victory and that she would be trapped in the Other World either way even if she had won, Coraline distracts her by telling her that her parents are located behind the door. Whilst the Other Mother vomits out the black button key that she swallowed previously, Coraline finds her parents trapped inside a snow globe sitting on the mantle piece and grabs it. Proudly declaring that Coraline is wrong and will therefore stay in the Other World forever, Coraline throws the Cat onto her face and in a swift act of karma, her button eyes are promptly ripped out.
Blinded, the Other Mother furiously accuses her of being "a horrible, cheating girl" and transforms the floor of the living room into the gigantic spiderweb, which consists of what is left entirely of the Other World. As the Cat escapes back to the real world, the Other Mother tries to hunt down Coraline like prey in the spiderweb but fails as Coraline quickly enters the door and into the passageway inside that leads to the real world. The Other Mother screams at her for "disobeying" her but Coraline kicks her in the face, briefly splitting her face in half.
With the assistance of the Ghost Children, Coraline manages to slam the door shut onto the Other Mother's hand, severing it. Locking the door with the black button key, the Other Mother realises her own doom and screams horrendously that she would die without Coraline as she tries to break down the door. Her powerful actions of attempting to break the down the door cause the door and the passageway itself to be shaken and pushed forwards towards the real world but Coraline locks the door from the side of the real world in time, which causes various furniture to be knocked down and the snowglobe to break, freeing her parents.
Relieved that her parents returned home safely, even though they seemed to have no memory of what happened to them, Coraline dreams of the Ghost Children, who are finally freed and have their normal eyes back in the afterlife. They tell her that the Other Mother is angry at her and is looking for the black button key, the only way she could have access to her and possibly other victims in the future. Coraline plans to throw the key in a well in the garden of the Pink Palace Apartments as she believes it is a place where the Other Mother would never find it but as she walks to the well, the Other Mother's severed hand emerges from the door and follows Coraline.
Moments before she could throw the key down the well, the Other Mother's hand latches onto her neck and briefly strangles her as it tries to drag her back into the Other World. Wybie arrives in his motorbike and blares the horn, stopping the hand in its track. He grabs the hand off her neck but the hand attacks his face, causing him to stumble off his motorbike and nearly fall down into the well. Coraline manages to smother the hand with her towel but the hand rips it apart as Wybie crawls out of the well and smashes it into pieces with a rock just in time.
They throw it together into the depths of the well and cover the well with a lid, ultimately sealing the Other Mother's fate. Both the film and novel do not specify her fate although the Other Mother is presumed to have starved to death alone in the Other World in torment - just like what she has done with her victims.
Powers and Abilities
|“||She has this other world where everything is better, the food, the garden...the neighbors. But it's all a TRAP!||„|
|~ Coraline to Wybie about the Beldam.|
The Beldam holds near-omnipotent power over the Other World and is able to manipulate the universe into appearing whatever she wishes. However, she cannot create things out of scratch but rather recreate things that have already existed, implying that she has limited powers in the world she rules in. From this, fans conclude that the Beldam discovered rather than created the Other World. This theory has more weight for the novel since the Beldam has human origins, which can implicate that the Beldam, at some point of her life, stumbled into the Other World and settled there. She is particularly good at sewing as she is mostly composed of needles.
She also has control over the weather in the Other World as she is able to make lightning appear, which appears in the shape of her hand, when she talks to Coraline about the rain and is able to completely cover the entire moon with the shadow of a button and to completely disintegrate into a blank void. The strength of her powers depend on how much energy she has left from feeding on the flesh and souls of her victims. These powers also keep the Other World in its whimsical state, and the less energy she has, the more it reverts back to its twisted state.
She often makes bargains with her victims in order to obtain their flesh and souls to feed upon similar to how people make deals with the Devil in order to achieve fame, power etc. and is able to steal and imprison souls, which alludes to her demonic nature. The Other Mother is also quite physically powerful as she is able to rapidly climb up a gigantic spiderweb when she chases Coraline and is able to bang on the door so hard that the passageway also pushes forward as she tries to break the door down forwards. Despite being unable to exit the Other World like the other creations (except for her rats), her hand is the only body part that can exit the Other World. It is extremely powerful and can attack people and drag people in long distances and it is presumed that the Other Mother detached her own hand in order to send the button-eyed ragdolls to the real world as her hand acts like a "robot".
The Other Mother is also quite talented in disguising herself to look like a completely different and an otherwise normal-looking human female compared to her arachnoid form in order to lure and deceive her victims. She can transform into any appearance that she desires and can even transform herself into looking like a normal human being from the real world without the button eyes.
The Inhabitants of the Other World
The inhabitants of the Other World are the Other Mother's creations and like her, they have button eyes but they are created out of sawdust like the button-eyed ragdolls that she sends to her victims unlike herself.
The inhabitants depend on the type of people that the Other Mother's victims live with in the real world so they could feel more comforted and be tempted to stay forever. They are albeit enhanced duplicates of the people that her victim lives with in the real world and are fun and entertaining just like the Other Mother. The Other Mother's army of rats are her most loyal creations and are responsible for physically luring her victims into the Other World.
In Coraline's case, the Other World inhabitants are Other Father, the Other Mr. Bobinsky, the Other Mice, the Other Spink, the Other Forcible, the other Spink and Forcible's Scottish Terriers, and the Other Wybie. The Other Wybie is the only Other inhabitant that is completely sympathetic to Coraline and shows no willingness, even when coerced, to harm her.
However, as the magic of the Other World fades away as the Other Mother loses her powers and becomes more and more like her real self, so do the inhabitants of the Other World. They are in reality monstrous and rather demonic beings who violently attack anything that goes in their way and often have disturbing and distorted voices and screams, as seen when Coraline grabs the eyes of the Ghost Children from them during the game.
Most of them have limited free will as the Beldam sees them as slaves, fit solely for the purpose of luring her victims into the Other World. However, she gives some of the inhabitants more free will to make the illusion of their loving and friendly personalities more "genuine". This is seen with the Other Wybie, who was given the most free will since the Beldam knew that the cause behind most of Coraline's frustrations with the real world was Wybie's annoying personality. However, this extended free will proved to be one of the Beldam's biggest mistakes since the Other Wybie used this as an advantage to actually try to help and rescue Coraline from the Beldam. This applied to a lesser extent for the Other Father but seeing that she needed to present herself as a proper mother (i.e. being the wife of a loving husband), it was probably a more pragmatic choice for the Beldam to make him a dutiful slave in luring Coraline.
They cannot escape the Other World as they are made out of sawdust and it is heavily implied that the sawdust serves as their "life energy" that is sustained by the powers of the Other Mother, which are fully manifested in the Other World. If they move out of the Other World, they lose most of their "life energy" hence would die quickly just like how fish out of water die quickly, explaining why the Other Wybie refused to escape with Coraline when he had the chance. The rats are the only creations that can leave the Other World since they use less of their "life energy" due to their smaller size. It is unknown why the Other Mother cannot escape the Other World despite not being made out of sawdust.
Once the Other inhabitants are done doing the Other Mother's biddings, she "recycles" them for her next victim. They were all eventually killed (inadvertently) by Coraline when she played the game in finding the eyes of the ghost children.
- The name "Beldam" is a reference to a fairy-tale being, also known as "La Belle Dame sans Merci" ("the beautiful lady without pity") from the poem of the same name by John Keats. The poem tells the story of an unnamed knight wandering in a barren and haggard land, who encounters a beautiful and mysterious woman with bright and wild eyes who draws him to her secret grotto with claims of love, then puts him into an enchanted sleep. The knight dreams of ghostly beings who warn him that he is under la Belle Dame's thrall; when he awakens, the woman and her home have vanished, leaving him back on the barren hillside. The word "Beldam" is also an archaic word meaning "Witch" or "Hag".
- The Beldam was originally the oldest (both from a "character's age" and "studio" standpoint) Laika villain (the former role being surpassed by Raiden the Moon King).
- Ashland, Oregon, the town that the Pink Palace is located in, was founded in 1852, approximately the same time the Pink Palace Apartments was initially constructed. It's also implied that the Beldam is as old as the apartment itself.
- When the Beldam speaks to Coraline, she sometimes refers to herself as "your (Coraline's) mother", most notably after she revealed her true colors to Coraline.
- The Beldam's desire to consume Coraline's soul is foreshadowed during the initial dinner scenes. Whilst Coraline and the Other Father eat regular food, the Beldam has nothing on her plate and instead, looks at Coraline with delight. The only time the Beldam is shown to eat is when she eats live cocoa beetles. This not only indicates that the Beldam only wants human souls but that she prefers to eat them whilst they're (her victims) still alive.
- The song that the Beldam hums while she is in the kitchen is the same song that played during the opening credits.
- Some fans speculate that when the Beldam told Coraline that "everyone has an other mother", she was actually telling the truth and not simply using figurative speech. Considering that the Other World is implied to be older than the Beldam and that she has no true power over it (she can only manipulate objects in the Other World), this could be the case.
- In the film, the side of the door facing both the real world and the Other World do not have door knobs. It was most likely built this way because once locked, it would effectively trap the victims forever (given that the key is hidden).
- The Seamstress in the film 9 was a nod to the Other Mother in Coraline, due to their metallic hands. Both films were created by Focus Features.
- The Beldam is one of the cruelest of the Laika villains, alongside Archibald Snatcher.