mother!

I was eager to see this, although I’m not an overwhelming fan of Darren Aronofsky. But it looked crazy, and we knew almost nothing of what it was really about, except that it’s a psychological thriller verging on a horror film. Sign me up! And while there will be spoilers later—I’ll give you ample warning—let me say up from that it went like this: for the first 30 minutes, I was sitting there like “This is expertly handled and very creepy!” and for the second 30 minutes I was like “Okay, I absolutely love this film!” Then for the third I started to be like “This is going on too long,” and finally “Hmmm, that was all a bit pat,” but ultimately… I had the now-almost-inconceivable experience of sitting in a multiplex and having NO IDEA what I might see next—which in itself makes the film worthwhile—and that the film is just straight-up BONKERS, which also makes it worth seeing. So go! Total thumbs-up!

As for plot, the film finds young wife Lawrence, credited as “mother,” in a gorgeous house in a beautiful field with her much older poet husband, credited as “him.” They are soon joined by Ed Harris as “man” and eventually Michelle Pfeiffer as “woman.” Lawrence is a fragile little thing, and the first half is an expertly-handled Repulsion-esque affair where small noises and tiny things start to find her sanity unraveling. So you think you might be in for a Yellow Wallpaper-type examination of a woman going crazy under all that nasty patriarchy, but the film has more, much, much more, in mind. Still, the opening hour is a brilliantly-handled escalation of Lawrence being slowly demeaned and diminished as she runs around trying to fix everything that her guests are slowly trashing, and her husband is systematically ignoring and diminishing her. And don’t miss that important moment when Lawrence communes with the house and finds it a living, breathing thing.

Anyway, things escalate, and escalate, and escalate, until “over the top” is left far behind, and the movie just keeps going. You know how things started getting batshit crazy at the end of Requiem for a Dream? Imagine that times ten, and you’ll have some idea. Also in here, any questions about why he needed these actors are put to rest, as each of them earns their pay and then some. Lawrence, who I had come to look a bit askance at, once again proves that she is a wonderful, rich, immensely capable actor. Bardem is able to bring huge amounts of empathy and depth to his limited role. Kristen Wiig sweeps in at a late hour and nearly steals the film. Harris is excellent as usual, but it was a true pleasure to see Michelle Pfeiffer take a ferocious bite out of the film, and what the world needs now is much, much more of her at her current age. Where is the Taken-style thriller with her kicking ass? Outraged citizens demand more Michelle Pfeiffer NOW!

Okay, in the next paragraph the spoilers begin. I would think twice about reading them, because for me, when you realize what’s going on, it kind of diminishes the whole thing. The way the film wraps up is also, unfortunately, a big diminisher as you’re a bit like “Oh, that was it?” So I think it’s best to go in knowing as little as possible, and just experience it. But if you’ve seen it or whatevs, we’ll discuss below.

SPOILERS > > > The lack of my own religious upbringing is such that I could not figure this out as the film was going on, and was sitting there like “I know this is all some big religious allegory, but what is it?” I figured it out later by reading reviews and such. So, Lawrence is working on the house, she is a literal “home maker.” The poet is a literal “creator.” Lawrence senses that the house is alive and healthy—at first. So the house is the earth and Lawrence is Mother Earth. Then the creator invites a man in—that’s Adam, and he is soon joined by Eve, and they are soon asked to leave. Then their sons arrive, and one kills the other, and you’re like “Oh, that’s Cain and Abel.” Then we basically pack the old and new testaments in here—including a flood that makes everybody go away for a while—and we have a big allegory about how mankind uses and abuses mother nature, uses her up, then the cycle begins all over again.

For me, realizing what it adds up to—and how little it all really adds up to—diminished the whole thing. Then the last bit about the cycle beginning all over again also diminished it, making it seem a bit cynical and simplistic. Which is a shame, because the excellent performances and filmmaking on display are worth a bit more than that, but… maybe not everyone will feel this way.

Anyway, there is also another interpretation that neatly overlays this one, which is that of the artist (creator) and his romantic companion. Throughout the film, the artist uses up the energy of his companion like a vampire, relying on her to keep house and entertain while he gets inspired, ignoring her in favor of the adulation of others, using her to bring forth his creations, then taking it away from her to show the world. She makes his creations possible, yet gets none of the credit, yet he refuses to let her go. When he finally removes her heart and moves onto the next pretty young admirer, well, that’s life, babe!

Given this interpretation, think then on how creepazoidal it is that Aronofsky, in his forties, began dating Lawrence, in her 20s, during the making of THIS film.

Well that wraps it up then! You’ve got a very interesting little movie ahead of you, the kind of thing that should win Oscars if we lived in a just world, and you’d better get on it!

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4 thoughts on “mother!

  1. SPOILERS.

    The interplay between artist and significant other emerged for me as the primary theme of the movie, so there’s a summarized point I’d like to quibble with. Lawrence’s character does not make Bardem’s creations possible. The guy is creatively impotent before he gets the outside stimulation of Harris, Pfeiffer, and their sons. It’s their stimulation that brings him out of an admitted dry spell for poetry – as well as the sexless period she charges him with. She may now and then get his emotions splashed onto her, but it’s the others who fire him up.

    If “Black Swan” puts forth that you’ve got to be a little mad to pursue artistic excellence and that the pursuit will hone that madness, “mother!” offers that devoting yourself to a driven artist is another form of crazypants. The house is his; the only thing we know about Lawrence (besides her moment to moment reaction to things – it’s definitely a performance that pulls you into a rather thin character) is that she home-makes. She doesn’t exist outside of bringing life to his surroundings; she lives to impart her personal touch onto his house – and, by extension, him. When she communes with the house’s heart, might it be that the heart is actually how she perceives his to be? At the end, it’s only immediately after the house’s heart is dark and dead that she vents fury, a fury that doesn’t really spoil her decorating (that’s for interlopers) but instead literally tears the room asunder.

    I like your Biblical overlay onto the story. Not only does it fit, it makes the Metaphor! of it all less navel-gazing than an overblown chamber drama about addicted creators and the women who love them. I wouldn’t miss an Aronofsky and am glad there’s something so unwieldy from a big Hollywood studio; still not sure whether this was worth the grapple. Then again, win or lose, it’s a plus to lose that FOMO. (Also, how bout that sound design?!?)

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    • Well, given interviews with Aronofsky, I think the biblical overlay is the main thing, as well as that Lawrence is “mother earth.” It seems the artistic interpretation is at least not his main intention. When I said she “makes his creations possible” I was specifically trying to reference the baby, although without spoilers. Still, all total quibbles, and YES, agreed on the sound design!

      Have you been following the stories that this film is the rarity to get an F from audiences? The ones that hate it, HATE IT with a passion, and it seems clear that audiences absolutely DO NOT want to think… at least without the added attraction of gunfights and explosions a la Christopher Nolan. Anyway, yeah, a bit trite in the overall simplicity of the metaphor, but still, impeccably well made and acted and definitely glad something like this is out there. Be well, sir!

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  2. Not surprised by the F. By and large audiences want to know what sort of movie they’re getting; not a lot of precedent for this one, so I’m guessing people didn’t get whatever they expected. Plus, it’s a movie out to unnerve that goes to pitch dark places without the reassurance of familiar technique and tones. I get how someone looking for easy-to-absorb entertainment would feel betrayed or cheated or even assaulted.

    The Biblical as main thing … well, I suppose if one wants to put forth astringent observations on God and humanity, this is one way to get people to drink. Can’t shake the feeling though that the interpersonal is the kernel of things and the other stuff is a way of supplementing/disguising what’s more raw and central. Admitting your challenging new film is about theology or ecology seems less indulgent and emotionally safer than stating “I was driven to vent the awful patterns I see in my own intimate experiences.” Though, hey – the movie can be more than one thing.

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  3. Pingback: It | Cinema de Merde II: Legend of the Thingy

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