‘…a horror flick with over-tones of the Gothic, surreal and a touch of chaotic ludicrousness …’
Aronofsky’s Mother! is on the surface a film about the worst house guests in history, and as such is shot as a horror flick with over-tones of the Gothic, surreal and a touch of chaotic ludicrousness. But this film has depth and complexity. It is really about (well, it’s about lots of things; worthy of a fuller review at a later date) humanity destroying the earth in their quest for something higher, more beautiful and enlightened. And it is a critique of a patriarchal religion that professes love but breeds contempt. There are dozens of biblical references, mostly derived from Genesis in the Old Testament, but there are doses of the New Testament too (the Crucifixion & the hallucinatory chaos and hell-fire of Revelations) and the history of the Church in religious warfare, persecution and abuse. Layered over this are even more allegories about abusive or domineering relationships, and how we destroy ourselves when we destroy nature (Mother Earth).
In the beginning…Him (Javier Bardem) creates the earth and mother (Jennifer Lawrence), and all is beautiful. The house (Garden of Eden) has a heart beating inside its walls, which seem to pulsate with some previous existence before succumbing to a great catastrophe. Him is a poet, but after his initial creative success he is struggling to think of something new. Suddenly, man (i.e. Adam – played by Ed Harris) arrives and is welcomed into the house (paradise), with a deep gash in his back where there is a missing rib, followed by woman (i.e. Eve – played by Michelle Pfeiffer). They are kind of useless sycophants of Him, shamelessly having sex about the house. Then, Eve goes into God’s forbidden room and touches a forbidden object. All hell descends from then on. In this short review, we just cannot go through all that is put before us – and there is a lot. The central theme however is that throughout the film the history of humankind blunders its way forward as mother (Mother Earth – but I would also say that she is the nurturing side of humanity that cares deeply about the world) suffers. Him, while seeming to care about her, is more preoccupied that his half-crazed followers adore him. Again and again she repairs the damage, tries to keep some order in place and tries to get people (humanity) to respect the house, and again and again, humanity causes more destruction while Him is selfishly looking for praise.
In the rapid montage of chaotic events towards the end of the film there are some startling scenes on the maltreatment of refugees, human greed and indifference to suffering. No doubt, this is the reason why the film is ‘controversial’, but it is also why it can be a very difficult film to watch. This film is built on metaphors – some obvious, others less so. I think the film works. It is well acted by all the cast, it has a surreal feel to it that fits the subject matter, as do the horror techniques, building the escalating tension and mayhem as it unfolds. Because there are so many metaphors it is possible (and likely) to miss many of them, but overall this is a very good film, and one of the better films this past year. It certainly will not be to everyone’s taste but I have rated it highly because it has continued to keep me interested long after leaving the cinema.
Reviewed by Robin Stevens – Rated 4/5
‘…a disgusting medley of gone-off wastefood stuffed into your face…’
After I partook in the ordeal of watching this film, I noticed that a few negative reviews (of which there are many), focused their ire on what was seen to be high pretentiousness. And there I was thinking that all directors are artists and all art is up for interpretation? (sigh) Well, if you come to the cinema in anticipation of something that is going to make you think rather than entertain you, then you should be able to get through this one and come out the other side with plenty to ponder on. And no, I don’t think you are going to receive an onslaught of pretentiousness. You may receive an onslaught akin to a rocket launcher to your nether regions in the last 30 minutes or so, but look it, this is Darren Aronofsky – a modern-day auteur of the absurd, a director who artistically scopes out deep issues that beset this current world. In fact, amongst many of the grand themes explored in Mother!, there is quite a simplistic and somewhat linear (or cyclical) approach to the storyline. As Robin has aptly summarised above, it doesn’t take long for us to fathom the metaphorical placements of characters and setting here (on the surface at least). Javier Bardem as a masculine, flawed ‘God’ and Jennifer Lawrence as the unsure and suffering ‘mother’ of all his creations are superb in their performances and Harris and Pfeiffer as the intrusive man and woman (Adam and Eve) are excellent additions to the early part of the film.
Mother! alludes to so much that is in the bible (again, Robin accounts for this above) – fresh from his disaster with Noah (2014), it is no surprise that Aronofsky still has the ancient book of fiction and philosophy on the brain. His approach is clearly filled with anger toward its content and a fraught pessimism concerning the beliefs which it has promoted for thousands of years. Essentially what we are getting here is that God is a bit of an arsehole and the world he has created is a bit of a shitfest. The way in which Aronofsky sets his film so as to present this hypothesis is pretty remarkable. Set entirely within an old and lonely-looking cottage with apparently no roads in or out, we as the viewer follow the viewpoint of mother (embodied through the porcelain face of Lawrence). Similarly to Natalie Portman’s character in Black Swan, we uncomfortably sit in her head space for the totality of the film, wandering around with her frustrations at intrusive house guests and her elusive husband. Indeed, in the heavily disturbing last 30 minutes, we are relentlessly confronted with the deep horrors and despicable brutality she has to endure while in the final stages of a pregnancy (the Nativity scene gone wrong!). This much-talked about sequence is not what you would describe as a feast for the senses, but more like a disgusting medley of gone-off wastefood stuffed into your face. I will admit that it was very hard to digest but having said that, it is not as grotesque as say John Waters’ Pink Flamingos (1972) for example – it is not attempting to be an ‘exercise in poor taste’. As a whole, there is still much beauty to be garnered from Mother! – it is so rich in metaphor and allegory that you are prompted to think and talk so much about it upon leaving the cinema. If you have ever watched Requiem for a Dream (2000) and Black Swan (2010), you will understand that Aronofsky is not in the business of making life comfortable for us but rather wanting us to think deeply about the absurdity of our lives as humans and of the world we are living in. He is an incredible artist and he makes terribly interesting films. With Mother! he may well be saying something personal, perhaps some lament for the way he has treated his ex-wife, who bore his child, I don’t know! Perhaps he is saying that Christianity is absolutely ludicrous (particularly that whole thing about consuming the body and blood of Christ in Catholicism). He could also be making parallels with the current incubus who rules that great country that he resides in. These are all likely possibilities but I reckon it is up to you to decide – isn’t this the best thing about the movies?
Reviewed by JJ McDermott – Rated 4/5