Controversial! Infamous! These are words that have described mother! To some extent, I suppose those are accurate descriptors. I will say, while accurate, the movie isn't as offensive as I was prepared for. Yeah, there's some really cruel stuff that happens to a digital baby. There's violence. There's nudity. There's sex. It's just that I thought it would be throughout the film. Really, the really messed up stuff happens in a really concentrated and intense section that is meant to shock you. So yeah, those descriptors? Accurate. R Rating.
DIRECTOR: Darren Aranofsky
You're right, Jennifer Lawrence. I too hate when people disrespect the housekeeping rules I so closely abide by.
So I rented one of the most panned movies of last year. Not only was it panned, but it caused just a whole lot of controversy. I didn't rent it for any of those reason. Okay, I didn't rent it for those reasons directly. I kind of like Darren Aranofsky. I know. He's anti-organized religion and he made a whole lot of movies that I didn't like. But he also made The Fountain and Black Swan and I really liked both of those a lot. I had to watch the movie for myself before I made a decision. My really quick verdict on the movie is that it isn't as bad as people make it out to be. It is more of a failed experiment; a case study of why less is more sometimes. It's not good, but a lot of it is very watchable and kind of compelling. Also, perhaps really try establishing a clear theme, Mr. Aranofsky. Doing everything and mixing metaphors can lead to people just walking away and saying "That is dumb."
I think I want to do SPOILERS with this one because I can and there's so much I want to break down. I want to address the individual themes and why they make people angry. I can see people getting angry over this movie. It never really made me angry so much as I thought it kind of turned into the cinematic version of a tantrum at one point. I have a feeling that most of my analyses will be about the final twenty minutes of the movie, or the tantrum part. The first part is really cryptic and used to just show that something weird is happening in the house. I also guess it is really helpful with establishing the mood of the piece. There is something uncomfortable happening in this house that is outside the rules of reality. It is only as I write this that I realize that mother! is just an extreme version of the formula that he uses with his other movies. The beginning is to ground and relate the characters to us. There is tension and events that change the plot happen, but they are all pretty close to the ground. It is only when the movie crosses a certain threshold later in the film that the movie tries abandoning semblances of reality. It's not to say that this insanity isn't foreshadowed. It is. I'm thinking of the flashes to the sphere in the fountain or the weird hallucinations that Portman gets in Black Swan. But these characters all have a fairly grounded plot. In mother!, Lawrence is married to famous but frustrated author Javier Bardem, playing up the age difference between the couple. Apparently, this is similar in age between Darren Aranofsky and Jennifer Lawrence, but this seemed to be an after the fact thing. Anyway, talking about the most offensive aspect to me personally (which again, never really does...but I can at least see it) is the possible attack on theology. This might be a movie about the relationship between God and people. Having Bardem refer to himself as the creator and demanding adulation for all of his great creations at the sacrifice of the individual might be the central theme here. Lawrence's character admits that Bardem has created something "perfect". She sees the beauty in it and responds responsibly. But it is when organized religion comes in the form of fandom that shows the quick escalation of the tantrum section of the movie. This would be reaffirmed by the sacrifice of Bardem's son to the masses, similar to the killing of Christ. The baby being eaten (maybe this movie is pretty messed up) could mirror the Eucharist. But this is all liberal college theology. It is an oversimplification of the way that organized religion works, focusing only on the negative experiences that people have had with faith. I can see Aranofsky using this movie as a vehicle to talk about faith, but Lawrence's character doesn't fit well with this idea, especially considering that the movie is named mother!
In isolation, the theology thing doesn't really work all that well. If it is coupled with the problems of Aranofsky dealing with celebrity, the mixed metaphor works kind of. The problem there is that it really muddies the waters of the message. I leaned heavily into Aranofsky using the tantrum section of the movie to explore the evils of celebrity and the cost of art on the artist. If Aranofsky is Bardem and Lawrence is every healthy human relationship he has ever had, the message kind of works. Fandom is a pretty dark thing. I love being a part of multiple fandoms, but there is the sense of entitlement and ownership that comes with fandom. If the message is about that, I could really see it. Ed Harris comes to him as a fan. Not only is he a fan, but he is a fan who lies about his relationship to the situation to give himself a sense of self worth. Bardem needs Harris and the other visitors there to keep going, but the movie outside of Bardem's perspective is focused on the chaos and violence that surrounds the life of adulation. I actually really like this interpretation of the whole thing, but the movie focuses on the fact that the artist is wholly unaware of the destruction that his lifestyle creates. The very nature of this movie contradicts that. On top of that, the insanity of the tantrum scene is just too too much. I have to kind of applaud him. If he is trying to show how insane his life feels when he is torn between art and family, mission accomplished. I applaud him because everyone goes subtle. But there's also a really good reason why the rest of the world goes subtle: it works. Going this big and this hard into your theme quickly gets silly and preachy. People, myself included, like figuring out the message and extrapolating meaning from the movie. In a lot of cases, the viewer takes ownership of the art and derives his or her own message from their experience. Unfortunately for guys like Aranofsky who desperately DESPERATELY want their message heard, they run the risk of losing the point. But when a message is so screaming at the screen, people feel talked down to. The director becomes an authoritarian and nothing is more tempting for an anonymous viewer than to rebel against that very message.
The thing that kind of bums me out is that for a good chunk of this movie, I thought that everyone was wrong about it. I really enjoyed the first two thirds. It's odd and creepy. The performances are cool. There are so many cool visuals. Like, I haven't seen a movie drop the ball so hard as mother! and I know that the first two thirds are there just to give the last third a huge contrast. The obsessive homeowner really wanted to help Jennifer Lawrence clean the house. I don't know what the message of people being rude to J-Law was. Is it that people just have a sense of entitlement? That would be a real bummer of a message in a movie. If the movie is about how terrible everyone is but Darren Aranofsky and Jennifer Lawrence, I can see why people didn't like it. I started this review with the comment that I, too, lose my mind when people don't share my feelings about taking care of a house, so I just kept getting an emotional charge. When Michelle Pfeiffer drops the glass egg, I lost it too. When the couple starts bouncing on the sink, I kept thinking about how no one ever listens to my simple requests for things and then I started crying. (It's almost 12:30 in the morning and everyone in the house is asleep. This is the only time I can vent like this.) I don't know why we had to focus on Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer having sex. I don't get what it brings to the story outside the fact that it is just a hugely rude thing that they could do. I guess that might be one of my frustrations about the movie in general though. The movie teases a lot of concepts and cool imagery, but very little of it comes to fruition. The only guess I have about the house burning down and being rebuilt time and again might be a reference to Dionysus, but that might be a stretch. Also, it is a reference in isolation, which makes me really question if that's what Aranofsky is going for. It just seems weird. The blood stain where the son fell is also really odd. It clearly is a metaphor because the results of the blood stain are inconsistent when it comes to how Jennifer Lawrence views the events in the film. The tiny room? I know it was a set piece to blow up the house at the end and thus bookend the film, but why is that room a secret? Why did the blood outline the doors to that room? Why did the light bulb blow up? There is so much here that I feel like Aranofsky wants to bludgeon me with the metaphor, but doesn't ever want me to feel smart enough to feel like I figured it out on my own.
It wasn't a bad two hour watch. I was really expecting something horrible and I just got something preachy instead. I was told not to see it and that was probably a bit much. I don't recommend it to anyone and the movie does hit some intentionally offensive beats, but don't go into it trying to prove that you know better or that you want to see something messed up. It isn't the most messed up movie ever made, but it is enough to make you kind of grossed out. Also, Mr. Ananofsky, do one thing and do it well. Back up a bit. I still want to see your future films, but you don't have to make the ends of all your movies insane.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.