mother! ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.


Second viewing, no change, still the year's most audacious and (to my twisted sensibility) purely entertaining movie. And I maintain that it's most profitably interpreted—to the limited extent that doing so even matters—as a portrait of the creative process; watching it again, the blatant Biblical allegory seemed even more like a smokescreen, with multiple correspondences that make little sense. Why include "the flood"—a do-over for humanity—if the creation and destruction of Earth (or maybe just life on Earth) is itself a cyclical process? Does God absentmindedly sit on a sink He forgot to brace? (I'd totally forgotten that Bardem is the first person Lawrence tells to get off the damn sink.) If mother represents Earth, or Nature, what does "You never loved me; you just loved how much I love you" even mean? And if she represents Humanity, then who are all those other people? Don't get me started on the connotational messiness of the crystal object that "Eve" breaks.

In any case, despite the wealth of specific references that support Aronofsky's stated intentions, mother!, like Dogville, is ultimately rich and demented enough to accommodate numerous readings, which aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. I'm totally down with Bardem = Artist and Lawrence = Muse, as explicated by Michael Sicinski. At the same time, though, I find that the film resonates even more strongly if I imagine Lawrence to represent not a person but an idea. She's creativity in its purest form, unconcerned not just with the marketplace but with outside approval of any kind—the Salinger-esque ideal. The house serves as context for the idea: genre, narrative, form, what have you. Something that requires active work and is badly shored up in places. And the baby that she conceives with the artist, but isn't necessarily sure she wants, and then really doesn't want to share with anyone else for fear that they'll destroy it, would be a completed work.

Did Aronofsky intend this particular reading? Almost certainly not. But that doesn't mean it didn't creep its way onscreen via his unconscious. And it clarifies elements that I'd otherwise find baffling. In the Biblical reading, or the environmental reading, it's unclear to me why Bardem suffers from writer's block for the first half of the film. In my reading, he's only inspired to create something based on his new idea once the residue of his previous idea, which inspired the new idea, gets broken. (Note Pfeiffer's curious question to Lawrence: Why is she renovating the house that burned down, rather than just building a new house? ) The deliberate gestation parallels, e.g. Bardem finishing his draft mere seconds after Lawrence first feels the baby kick, fit this scenario as well. Not sure about the yellow powder, which seems to be mysterious in every possible interpretation, but it's surely significant that she tosses it immediately after he starts writing again. (Maybe it's other art?) The capper, though, was me cackling aloud in the near-empty theater when that one dude starts to "help out" by painting the house, because what else am I doing right now?

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