The evil guardian in fiction
September 12, 2016 11:09 AM   Subscribe

Can you name a movie, novel, or play that contains roughly the following trope? A malign caretaker or guardian (possibly but not necessarily a relative) deliberately worsens or fails to improve the physical or mental condition of the person in his/her charge in order to profit financially or otherwise gain or maintain control of money/property/assets.
posted by eugenen to Media & Arts (57 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Some examples here (scroll down to the Munchausen by Proxy section) (warning: TVTropes link).
posted by Etrigan at 11:12 AM on September 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


Love & Mercy is a great movie; at the center of the plot is Brian Wilson's relationship with his psychopathic, manipulatively controlling, user psychiatrist, who acted as his guardian for precisely this reason.
posted by flourpot at 11:16 AM on September 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


Cloud Atlas comes to mind (the ship subplot)
posted by thewumpusisdead at 11:17 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is the plot of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
posted by bleep at 11:17 AM on September 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


It's also more or less the plot of A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Frances had a bit of a type.
posted by phunniemee at 11:19 AM on September 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


Sounds like A Series of Unfortunate Events.
posted by starlybri at 11:20 AM on September 12, 2016 [9 favorites]


If you're looking specifically for people who are doing this for the money or property (rather than just because they're evil), I have fewer suggestions. I don't think that fits The Secret Garden, for example, since money wasn't the motive.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken is a children's book that fits.
posted by gideonfrog at 11:20 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


What ever happened to baby Jane?
posted by flourpot at 11:21 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


You may want to check out the Evil Matriarch and Archnemesis Dad sections of TV Tropes. Not all the examples they provide fit, but many do.
posted by Diagonalize at 11:21 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


One Flew Over the Cuccoo's Nest might fit. Nurse Ratched pushes one of the patients into killing himself.
posted by Michele in California at 11:21 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah, if you're not strictly looking at money as the gain, then definitely "Rebecca." Also, "Seeds of Yesterday" (a sequel to "Flowers in the Attic.")
posted by Melismata at 11:25 AM on September 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


Flowers in the Attic!
posted by mochapickle at 11:25 AM on September 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


I'm sure I could think of many better examples, but the first book that popped into mind is Jane Eyre, first with Jane's treatment by her aunt, and also you could also consider Mr. Rochester's treatment of his wife as an example of this.

It been a few years since I read it, but I think We Have Always Lived in the Castle also has shades of this, though Charles isn't exactly a guardian, more just a conniving greedy relative.
posted by catatethebird at 11:25 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh, right, missed the word "guardian" as well as caretaker. Yeah, definitely "Flowers in the Attic."
posted by Melismata at 11:28 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


This trope showed up on the FX show You're the Worst last Wednesday. Lindsey, who had previously stabbed her husband Paul (and played it off as an accident), takes over his medical care (complete with sexy nurse outfit). She then promptly steals his painkillers and takes his credit card, leaving him alone and in agony.
posted by ejs at 11:28 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Laius actually tries to have (and thinks he has succeeded in having) his son killed, in order to save his own skin. The son being Oedipus, it doesn't actually work out so well for him, but it may fulfil your trope.
posted by ubiquity at 11:30 AM on September 12, 2016


In the Secret Garden I thought that the boy's uncle was keeping him sick so that the uncle would inherit the estate. It's been awhile since I read it though.

The mistreatment in Jane Eyre is just around resentment and inconvenience though.
posted by bleep at 11:31 AM on September 12, 2016




No, in The Secret Garden he's just been seen as sick his whole life, and so treated as sick. There's actually no malice on anyone's part there.

There was a storyline like this in Twin Peaks--two characters are having an affair, and when her husband confronts them, he ends up with a brain injury that leaves him in a mostly vegetative state. They take minimal care of him for the insurance money, but are careful not to do anything that might bring him back to better health.
posted by gideonfrog at 11:36 AM on September 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


[Disney spoilers, I guess] This is the big climactic twist in Frozen.
posted by lilac girl at 11:40 AM on September 12, 2016


If you're looking specifically for people who are doing this for the money or property (rather than just because they're evil), I have fewer suggestions. I don't think that fits The Secret Garden, for example, since money wasn't the motive.

It doesn't fit A Little Princess, either. It was only once it was discovered that Sarah, the protagonist, didn't have money that things got bad for her, not the other way around.
posted by holborne at 11:41 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think there is an argument for Buck from Kill Bill Vol. 1 fitting this (though it isn't clear how much he was neglecting/deliberatly worsening Our Protagonist's condition).

The TVTropes (consider that your cw) for Munchausen Syndrome has a subsection for Munchausen by Proxy which reminded me of the poisoned girl in The Sixth Sense, Misery (though I don't think there was a financial incentive there).

A happy fun (not really) real-life example was discussed here.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:41 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh! Some movies, too:

Ever After
Sleepy Hollow
Snow White

And possibly Moulin Rouge -- Zigler, the closest thing Satine has to a parent or guardian, knows Satine is dying, but he goads her into finishing the show so his theater will not fail. It's not pure malevolence, but it is a kind of single-minded selfishness.
posted by mochapickle at 11:50 AM on September 12, 2016


Cinderella
posted by pecanpies at 11:51 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is the plot of a (terrifying!) short story by Charles Dickens, The Ghost in the Bride's Chamber.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 12:00 PM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


A Series of Unfortunate Events fits this to a T.
posted by vacuumsealed at 12:07 PM on September 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


Stephen King's Misery.
posted by hoodrich at 12:08 PM on September 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


In The Two Towers (film version) Saruman has King Theoden under a mind-clouding, weakening spell so the advisor Wormtongue can keep the kingdom under his influence and control.
posted by castlebravo at 12:17 PM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


In the Sherlock Holmes story "A Case of Identity," a stepfather who doesn't want to lose the income brought into the household by his stepdaughter's inheritance arranges to have a pretend fiance jilt her so that she will be heartbroken and not seek to marry again (and thus remain at home).
posted by praemunire at 12:42 PM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters series is full of this. Gates of Sleep, Phoenyx and Ashes, Serpent's Shadow (sort of). Many of the books have it as a subplot or sort of suggested, but those have it as the main plot, with the first two literally about evil stepmothers. Her 500 Kingdoms series, same deal. And her Arrows of the Queen series, her Vanyel series, and her Owlknight series. Okay, I'm sensing a theme…
posted by Nyx at 12:49 PM on September 12, 2016


Bernie.
posted by ApathyGirl at 12:51 PM on September 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is the plot of Misery (the Stephen King book and movie).

There are numerous examples in science fiction of caretakers crippling whole societies, from Logan's Run to several Star Trek episodes like The Return of the Archons.
posted by adamrice at 12:55 PM on September 12, 2016


Tangled, the Disney retelling of Rapunzel, fits the bill. [spoiler alert] Rapunzel's stepmother, Mother Gothel, keeps Rapunzel in a co-dependent relationship in order to forever stay youthful. [/spoiler alert]
posted by tickingclock at 12:59 PM on September 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


Uhmmm....Hamlet
posted by brookeb at 1:11 PM on September 12, 2016


The manga and anime series Daughter of Twenty Faces (aka Nijū Mensō no Musume) starts out exactly this way, with a young heiress being slowly poisoned by guardians who stand to inherit if she dies.
posted by waffleriot at 1:13 PM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh, I missed the "(financial or similar) gain" aspect. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest doesn't really fit that. The head nurse is just basically a horrible person, but there is no financial gain involved that I know of.

Braveheart has a bit of this, though the character is portrayed sympathetically because she is an ally of the title character. The French noble woman that aids Braveheart and with whom he has an affair tells her ailing father-in-law after he is no longer able to speak that she carries a child not of his line and his son will not sit the throne long after he passes, she "swears it." She is portrayed as one of the victims here and her actions are portrayed in a very sympathetic light, but if the story were told from the other side of the battle lines, she would be a traitor, etc. But she does bring Braveheart money and the battle is for political control, which involves substantial assets, if you want to look at it that way.

It isn't clear what the motivation is, but The Sixth Sense also has a mom who poisons one or both of her children.
posted by Michele in California at 1:16 PM on September 12, 2016


Seriously. This is the entire premise of "A Series of Unfortunate Events," as others upthread have said. But just to tout it on once more, instead of one book, you get thirteen, and they are all amazing and worthy of being read. Many times. Over and over.
posted by zizzle at 1:24 PM on September 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


Gaslight fits this near the end, as the husband (it's been ages, I can't remember names) has convinced the wife that she's insane after working to destroy her mentally. He's looking for jewels that her aunt left her. He is not her caretaker or guardian in the beginning, but he slowly gains that role as she thinks that she is losing her mind.
posted by Hactar at 1:33 PM on September 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


Thanks to everyone, these are great.
posted by eugenen at 1:35 PM on September 12, 2016


Flowers in the Attic mentioned above was the first thing I thought of too, BUT it's slightly different -- their mother has them poisoned not in order to take anything that belongs to them, but rather because she will forfeit her own inheritance if their existence becomes known.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:36 PM on September 12, 2016


That's more or less what happen in Stephen King's Misery. There's also another Shirley Jackson short story -- it's in her collected works, but I can't recall the name) where a caretaker, who is the beneficiary of the patient's will, is actively trying to kill off her patient through feeding inappropriate food, leaving odd notes lying around, and eventually kills her charge by frightening her into a heart attack.
posted by ananci at 1:37 PM on September 12, 2016


Mary Russell's aunt in The Beekeeper's Apprentice, by Laurie King.
posted by Bruce H. at 1:45 PM on September 12, 2016


VC Andrews' masterpiece of gothic ridiculousness, the Flowers In The Attic series, centres around four siblings who are the product of an incestuous but loving marriage between cousins (or uncle-niece or something similar, who can remember). After the kids' father dies in a car wreck, their mother is left in debt, so she decides to conceal the children's existence from her own father and manipulate him into leaving her a large inheritance. She hides the kids in a large attic for several years (where the two eldest enter a steamy puberty and begin their own incestuous love affair). While they're imprisoned, the kids' evil Grandmother (who resents incestuous love because I believe she had her own incestuous love affair thingie in her own sad youth that didn't work out, again, the details are misty but definitely lurid) emotionally and physically abuses them (beats them, calls them names, humiliates them, and puts tar in the hair of the elder girl), and she eventually feeds them arsenic-covered donuts, killing the youngest boy.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:48 PM on September 12, 2016


I could be wrong, but I believe that in the end it turned out it was not the grandmother poisoning them, but the mother. The final lurid betrayal!!!!
posted by praemunire at 2:19 PM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Spoiler, but this is the entire plot of Crimson Peak.
posted by MsMolly at 2:26 PM on September 12, 2016


I'm sure Uncle Ebenezer in Stevenson's 'Kidnapped' qualifies.
posted by Ashenmote at 2:33 PM on September 12, 2016


If you include radio comedy, then the BBC's Dickens spoof Bleak Expectations.

As a bonus the evil guardian in question — Mr Gently Benevolent — is played by Anthony Stewart Head.
posted by Major Clanger at 2:39 PM on September 12, 2016


Searcy Foote. And public domain, too.
posted by WCityMike at 2:41 PM on September 12, 2016


This is a sub plot in season 2 of Devious Maids.
posted by Shanda at 2:50 PM on September 12, 2016


TV Tripes Til Murder Do Us Part will probably also give you some good examples, especially in the Bluebeard and Black Widow subcategories.
posted by MsMolly at 3:09 PM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Black Widow is about a serial murderess who kills her wealthy husbands for their money.
posted by Michele in California at 3:59 PM on September 12, 2016


The Glass House
posted by cali59 at 6:24 PM on September 12, 2016


Do computer games count? Because Ultima VII, one of the best RPGs of all time, had this literal exact thing - an antagonist actually named The Guardian, who served as a deific power behind a new religious/philosophical group called The Fellowship in the land of Britannia... actually a thinly veiled riff on Scientology, seemingly putting on a benevolent face but with all the manipulation of its members and secret extraction of wealth and power, all to further the cause of the Guardian invading and fully controlling the entire world.
posted by FatherDagon at 8:12 PM on September 12, 2016


Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White (1859).
posted by Sonny Jim at 8:26 AM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Breaking Bad, basically.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:55 PM on September 13, 2016


After Dark, My Sweet (Jim Thompson novel, adapted for film). The plot involves the kidnapping, and deliberate misfeeding, of a diabetic kid.
posted by Morpeth at 9:46 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


There's a subplot in the cozy mystery Murder is Binding by Lorna Barrett where a son is drugging his mother to get her diagnosed as having Alzheimer's and committed her to a nursing home so he can sell off all her property.
posted by carrioncomfort at 7:15 AM on September 17, 2016


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