Movie nerds bristle with excitement at the idea of a new year and a new movie from visionary director, Darren Aronofsky. Blake Swan made so many swoon at the filmmaker’s artistic prowess and delivered a gold statue at the feet of Natalie Portman. Oh, what marvelous treasures must be waiting for us with the allignment of such a bold innovative voice and stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem. The film opens and like a George R.R. Martin like twist the fans and critics alike are lining up to take turns diving a dagger into Aronofsky’s divisive vision.
I never do this, but to truly dig below the surface of mother! I feel it’s important to delve into some context of why people are so split–why some might worship Aronofsky’s artistic expression while others might take their ticket stub and use it as some part of a voodoo ritual that culminates in the director’s untimely demise. Before we venture into those treacherous waters let me say this–mother! is a work of art. An interpretive painting that disgusts you, but strangely you feel compelled to keep starring and marvel at its audacity. Pretentious as that sounds, it’s a cinematic voice that should be encouraged even if it’s not something mainstream audiences have the stomach for. I encourage moviegoers to take the plunge into Aronofsky’s troubling psyche, but be forewarned that when you come out on the other side, remember…it was your choice to actually do so.
[Spoilery talk ahead. Read at your own risk–or not at all if you want to go in with a blank slate!]
[Last chance to avoid ANY type of spoiler…]
Aronofsky’s career path is as eccentric as his films. Having not yet seen The Fountain, it would seem that his work on Noah, left him with the inspiration to continue on a biblical path. The marketing of mother! sold what appeared to be a artistically inclined horror escapade–the trailer having tones similar to that of Get Out. Now, while there are horrific elements to mother!, it isn’t strictly horror. The final 25-minutes will run even the most seasoned genre vet through an exhausting gauntlet of escalating anarchy. When the dust settles what are we left to deduct from the chaos.
Aronofsky’s mother! tackles the Old/New Testament with a pseudo-modern interpretation. None of the characters have a name, that’s hint #1 that this is a work that’s meant to challenge the audience and kickstart the brain into connecting dots. Jennifer Lawrence is a maternal presence and married to Javier Bardem a poet driven by his ability to create. Throughout the film Lawrence is protective of the house and continuously trying to “create a paradise”. There’s hint number #2 as to what exactly Aronofsky is trying to accomplish. Beyond its biblical agenda the film dips uncomfortably into themes of how we as humans treat Earth (Lawrence is essentially Mother Earth, and Jesus’ mother, Mary), the struggle of creative types and the attrocities men inflict in the world and those who love them. It’s a modge podge of stark contrasts bathed in thick allagory that is indeed a hard pill to swallow.
So what is it that is driving critics and fans alike so nuts about this. Perhaps it’s the perceived misdirection caused by the marketing or perhaps it’s simply the brutal portrayal of religious subtext. The film hits bullet points up to the creation of The Bible (Bardem being God) and the zealotry that quickly follows. Adam and Eve…Cain and Abel…the great flood and eventual apocalypse–they are all here layered in the allegory that is mother!. Aronofsky deliberately plays with the audiences expectations around every corner before pulling out the metaphorical hammer and smashing the religious religious symbolism over the audience’s collective head. So maybe it’s the sudden explosion of on-the-nose insanity that’s shifting fans into defense mode.
The Aronofsky brand permeates the screen. The immediacy of the handheld camera work steadily builds unease. Characters scowl and shrug off other characters with uncomfortable and innaproriste interactions. The slow build of awkward characterization accentuates the explosion of pandemonium. The crescendo might rank up there with some of the best work Aronofsky has assembled to date–at least in terms of the technical skill to create such an epic scope confined in a single house. Challenging violence culminates in the literal portrayal of God’s followers overcome by the beauty and excitement of his only sone Jesus Christ that they tear the baby apart and eat his flesh (body and blood of Christ). This could be the pretentious leaning that’s sending audiences screaming for the door in a fit of rage. If you soldier beyond the rage and gag reflex it is possible to appreciate the artist not opting for easy praise.
The best art out there encourages us to think outside the box, expand our horizons and challenges the norm. Aronofsky is nothing if not an artist that is unsatisfied with the status quo. Contextual misdirection not only enhances the initial enjoyment of mother! but it also incites an unexpected sense of wonder that leads to revisiting the film with a renewed interest. Difficult to characterize and even harder to recommend, mother! is a rare cinematic treat that can be loved and hated by any single viewer simultaneously as they take in and chew on the fat long after the credits roll.
Note: On the walk to my car I was faced with a lot of soul searching. I was convinced when I sat down that I was going to have to trash this movie. Over the course of writing this review and reflecting over what I’d watched the initial hatred was still burning in me, but my artistic appreciation drove my overall thoughts. Gut reactions are meaningful to an extent, but interpretations and appreciation takes many forms and overall I applaud Aronofsky for taking the risks he took to a great degree.
Beer Recommendation: None at this time. Apologies to the flock.