A Look Back: The Parent Trap

The other day, I was trying to come up with the most disturbing movie I’ve ever seen. There were many contenders. “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me,” which I saw without ever having watched the TV show was one. “Spanking the Monkey” was another which, despite its pornographic title, is an indie about a young man who enters into a sexual relationship with his mother while the dad is away. But I think, excluding movies that are based on actual historic events, Disney’s “The Parent Trap,”(the original, not the remake) starring Hayley Mills as the spunky twins who were separated at birth when their parents divorced, but meet at summer camp, and switch places in order to get their parents back together, would be the creepiest.

First of all, there’s the matter of how the twins (one a prim Bostonian and one a carefree Californian) react when they first meet. They hate each other on sight. They even enlist their friends in an all-out war on each other that involves among other things, a stunningly elaborate booby trapped cabin and humiliation at a camp dance. Now, I don’t know about you, but if I ever met anyone who was (literally) a carbon copy of me (apart from the hairstyle), and I’d never met my other parent, I would have a lot of questions. I would not attempt to alienate that person right off the bat because I would want to seek answers.  Wouldn’t you?

Which brings me to the second problem: These girls appear to be your average bright and curious about the world teens – why don’t they put two and two together a lot sooner? Let’s reiterate: You’ve never met your mom/dad. Your parent is extremely tight-lipped on the subject. So you meet someone exactly your age who looks just like you to the point that everyone confuses you, and you don’t consider calling or writing home to see if maybe you have a sibling, even an identical twin? OK, maybe phone calls are frowned on, given that long distance at the time was expensive, but you can bet that I’d shoot off a letter right away with questions. But neither twin bothers to contact her parent in any way during her sojourn at camp (despite it being firmly established that they have a warm, positive relationship with them), so they have to stumble around and figure out that they are identical on their own.

Also, you might think the camp would contact the mom and dad to give them a head up that their daughter might be writing/phoning them with the news that they appear to have a lookalike (and that they can’t stand her). Because they might want to know that of all the summer camps in the US, they’ve both managed to pick the same one to send their kid to. Or maybe the camp head considers that a too delicate matter to raise, you’d still think she’d tell them how badly their daughters are behaving. I mean, their pranks go a little beyond just dabbing some toothpaste on the latrine seat, so in this case “tattling” might be wise. But no, the head uses her infinite wisdom and chooses to isolate them in a cabin that’s probably in condemnable shape and hope that they work out their differences on their own.

The reaction of the parents to who they assume is the original kid they sent to camp but who is actually an imposter is again baffling. The father is treated to a virtuoso piano performance by his daughter who (we are going to assume) has never taken a single lesson, and he buys her excuse that she learned at camp. Why – except for plot purposes – would it be completely outside the range of possibility that one day, your kid might bump into her twin sister? But both parents are presented, in typical Disney fashion, of being clueless to the point of needing their daughters to make them re-marry. Which brings me to the most disturbing angle of “The Parent Trap” of all.

This part was omitted in the remake with Lindsay Lohan, but as it turns out, Mom has a habit of slugging Dad whenever she gets annoyed. So when I learned that, my first reaction was that they did the right thing by separating, if Mom does have anger management issues. But the daughters can’t seem to see this and proceed with their scheme to get their parents back together.  Now no one is going to argue that Dad doesn’t belong with the evil scheming fortune hunter, but neither does he really belong with a woman whose ultimate solution to an argument is a wicked right hook.  Still, in this matter, the kids know best – but let’s just hope they can also persuade their parents to go into therapy if the violence continues.  Because otherwise, how happy a home is it really going to be?

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