mother! ★★★★½

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

This review may contain spoilers.

2017 movie viewings, #148. One of the great things I can say about my twenties is that I took the time back then to see a whole series of now famous indie films when they were still in theaters, back before the internet ruined any sense of surprise these unknown films might possess; and among other infamous stories (including taking a blind date to see Reservoir Dogs, simply because we had heard a lot of people liked it and that it might therefore be a good date flick), that includes seeing Darren Aronofsky's infamously head-scratching debut Pi, which to this day still remains my favorite film of his entire career, in many ways precisely because it's so hard to figure out, a thematically dense and philosophically rich project that quite literally gets better each successive time you watch it.

So I was glad to see Aronofsky return to his mindfuck roots with his newest, mother!, which I caught on a whim yesterday through my new MoviePass account. Although I have to admit, after being completely flummoxed while actually in the theater and watching it, the story made a whole lot more sense when I sat down with Wikipedia afterwards and reviewed the plot through written text: it was then that it suddenly became clear that Jennifer Lawrence is basically the Mother Nature of the movie's title, with her husband Javier Bardem being a version of the Christian God; that a ribcage-wounded Ed Harris and a boozy, bitchy Michelle Pfeiffer represent Adam and an apple-eating Eve, their fatally feuding sons Cain and Abel, Bardem's "writing den" they sneak into the Tree of Knowledge; that the son's funeral wake which eventually turns into a mean-spirited party represents the population explosion after Genesis which eventually turns into the corrupt times of Sodom and Gomorrah; that the busted water pipe which drives everyone away is a stand-in for the Great Flood; and that eventually Lawrence's unborn child at the heart of the film is a stand-in for Jesus (and Bardem's new book inspired by the pregnancy is the New Testament), sparking a series of religious wars within the confines of the "micro-Gaia" of Lawrence's house, just for the child to be almost immediately killed after birth and his remains ripped open and eaten raw by Bardem's zealous fans (which I'm convinced is the one and only part of this movie responsible for earning it a rare "F" from fan rating service CinemaScore, one of only 20 movies in the company's entire history to receive such a low grade, no doubt from horrified middle-class Presbyterians who had no idea what they were getting themselves into ["Goddamnit, Betty, I told you we should've seen Wonder Woman!"]).

Granted, not every moment of the movie matches up so precisely to a story from the Bible -- for example, I'm still not sure what the yellow powder is supposed to be that Lawrence is always taking to calm down (the sun, maybe?), or why she throws it away the moment she becomes pregnant -- but then, even Aronofsky has admitted in interviews that the script (which he wrote in its entirety in only five days) is deliberately designed to be a "psychedelic freak-out" that "sometimes doesn't make sense" and that will "fall apart quickly if you pay too much attention to it" (all quotes courtesy of Wikipedia), so it's easy to give the film a pass at the moments when it does precisely that. I loved the central premise, though, of imagining an intimate romantic relationship between a Supreme Being and the planet on which He has placed his children, and the way this relationship shifts and changes based on moments that make total sense to God but that mystify the "Spaceship Earth" where the moments take place. (The ongoing joke about how people just keep mysteriously showing up to Lawrence's house in larger and larger numbers, with Lawrence baffled by how they got there or why they're behaving so badly, is one of the most brilliant things about this entire movie, as is the premise at the finale that Mother Nature finally gets so angry at all these violent people overcrowding her house, she literally crawls inside her own fiery womb and lights herself on fire as a final giant "fuck you" to all of them.)

So in a way, then, it's a real shame that this so badly misconnected with the general audience; contemporary Christians especially I think will be fascinated by this film once they understand what Aronofsky is actually going for here, and without a doubt mother! is destined to be a cult classic that people will still be visiting in large numbers even decades from now. But it's not really easy, either, to have a lot of sympathy for Aronofsky and the way this film has become the national scapegoat punchline of 2017; for a movie this confrontational and symbolic should've never been given a $40 million budget to begin with, released in thousands of suburban mall theaters, and advertised as, "It's a funny horror movie starring that Hunger Games chick, from the dude who gave you The Wrestler!" If this had instead been made with a $5 million budget, released under special fanfare in just a small series of indie theaters, and advertised as, "Jennifer Lawrence in an art film? JENNIFER LAWRENCE IN AN ART FILM!," this movie would've garnered a much more positive reaction from the general public, and be rightly seen as Aronofsky's welcome return to art-school cred after a whole recent series of films that, while saving his career, were not much more than audience-pandering bullshit designed to make mouthbreathers feel smarter about themselves. ("Of course I love challenging and transgressive cinema. I sat all the way through Black Swan, didn't I?!")

For many of us, the Aronofsky of Pi is the Aronofsky we like best; and for those of you like me, mother! will be a welcome sight, a film that once again explores religion and fate in an intellectually deep and visually dense way that practically demands repeat viewings, with no easy answers and a complete lack of ass-kicking rock angels. If this sounds like something up your alley, rush out to theaters now before mother! blinks its way out of existence.

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