mother! ★★★

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

This review may contain spoilers.

"I don’t mind people are upset by the film because it’s supposed to be a reflection and a cautionary tale of what’s happening to the planet. And it’s hard, because I’m pointing at all of us saying, look what’s going on! Let’s think about this! I’m also guilty, I’m not any better. But the one thing I can’t understand is how people can’t acknowledge the filmmaking — there are three camera shots in the whole film: over the shoulder, on her face, and her point of view. There’s no score. There are all these things we did that are really hard to pull off. I couldn’t have done this five years ago. "

An essential microcosm of Aronofsky’s directorial approach to mother!, hidden within a light popcorn EW interview.

Let’s talk about the first half of Aronofsky’s quote. mother! is a reflection and a cautionary tale of what’s happening to the planet. Darren points with a sharp finger and Jennifer Lawrence shouts with a loud voice at all the badness in this world. I’m provoked into an extreme, intolerable empathy for JLaw as she navigates her husband (self-righteous, egotistical God) and all of the rude house guests (representing all of humanity) she has to deal with. I can’t recall ever feeling vehement anger, resentment, and malcontent during a movie in the way I felt watching these scenes play out.

Yet, these provoked emotions don’t reflect any genuine disgust or reflection on the world that we live in, on our treatment of mother nature and of each other.

...Why?

Part of the reason is that the faces in mother! belong to humans of dramatic imagination; they’re sensational, inconsistent, illogical, infuriating, ruthlessly conniving, and unequivocally evil; they’re inhumane Aronofsky nightmares built to shock and humor his audience, and they knowingly play against the audience’s cinematic expectations, authentic experiences, and common understanding of human behavior.

There’s a sharp disconnect between what we see on screen — fantastical horror and nightmare fuel — and what we as viewers know to be reality, and the distance that creates between the world that’s inhabited and the world it’s supposed to reflect and comment on is large. God and Adam and Eve move from room to room, from one shocking image to another, seemingly by teleportation; guests ravage Lawrence’s emotions with a readied determination and script; and young teenage millennials devour, destroy, and brutalize the wooden house and baby Jesus with impressive, superhuman strength and speed.

Another large issue with Aronofsky’s social-issues commentary is his tendency to be, at once, too far-reaching in the number of issues that are covered and too small-minded in the diversity and spread of those issues.

This film supposedly encompasses all of humanity’s time on Earth, from Day 6 to the end of times, but it calls out to extremely modern and contemporary issues that are hot topics in our current social and political climate: global warming, religion, terrorism and corruption, fame and celebrity, misogyny and sexual aggression are amongst the many topics Aronofsky pulls from his sleeves.

These topics are highlighted in bursts of shocking scenes and images, sometimes as short as a single line. Aronofsky feeds the audience pure provocative and comedic candy, foregoing any effort to provide us with empathetic points of connection and reflection. There’s no sense of care or effort taken to depicting these issues authentically or providing a nuanced perspective — these psycho-comedy shockers exist purely to shock, to humor, and to remind us of an unsympathetic director who’d rather manipulate our minds than plea for our hearts.

This is what happens when Darren Aronofsky decides to write a screenplay in 5 days based on extreme literal interpretations of hand-picked biblical passages, and then mixes in the juciest talking points from the past decade of news, blogs, and social media. He picks sides, stereotypes situations, and carves small irreverent niches into the film’s madness to maximize the number of people and organizations he can catch the attention of in the span of 2 hours.

While it’s certainly a good viral marketing strategy for mother!, it’s not in the best interests of any unifying themes, narrative arcs, or character sympathies. These mini-scenes and one-liners (“is it hot in here or what?”) scream loudly about everything he knows the audience will respond to. Just as we’re desensitized to violence in film and news media, Aronofsky desensitizes us to the very plights we’re supposed to think about and reflect on. mother! is a film with many morals and little dedication to any of them.

So let’s talk about the second half of Aronofsky’s quote. Aronofsky decides to follow up on his point about reflection and cautionary tales by lamenting on the lack of acknowledgement for his team’s filmmaking. It’s apparent that the director puts his concerns and obsessions about art and provocation above the messages it’s meant to carry, and the visual and temporal style reflects these priorities.

Admittedly, mother!’s photography is compelling: the film is unrelentingly claustrophobic, and Aronofsky’s male gaze is present and constant throughout. The freneticism with which the film displays and ratchets up its main pieces is captivating.

Despite its awe-inspiring merits, however, the incongruent invasiveness with which the film’s flash and splendor inhabits every shot is off-putting and distracting. This is not to mention mother!’s questionable usage of CGI, or its predictable slasher-style sequences and jump scares.

Even more incongruent is the liberal time manipulation taken by Aronofsky, which frequently disorients and further removes us from the cinematic space. Characters appear from thin air, varying lengths of time pass via repetitious cuts, and events that realistically take weeks — funerals and pregnancies — happen suddenly because Aronofsky wants them to happen, not because they make any logical sense, even in the context of an Aronofsky film.

mother! does more to place itself on a pedestal than it does to push forward its message, and while the filmmaking is more than enough to prove this point, it’s always clarifying to look at how a director talks about and views his film’s symbols, motifs, and allegories:

"Everything is connected. That was the breakthrough for me — I had this idea...So I would say every single beat and character is related to the Bible in order — all the way through the Old Testament and the New Testament. That’s the fun — for people to put that together. Even some of the dialogue — and people haven’t picked up on this yet, is verbatim from the Bible."

Taken by itself, Aronofsky’s quote is fairly innocuous — a director is allowed to be inspired by the bible, and it often helps people to make connections and apply past learnings to new, more modern and relatable situations.

It’s a shame that Aronofsky decided to be quite literal with his interpretation of the bible and to include unexplained biblical references that take up premier screen time. It doesn’t serve to keep the film on a consistent message or path, and it directs the audience’s attention away from the narratives and themes in favor of non-contributory easter eggs.

While it may be “fun...for people to put that together”, the subsequent discussions that defines mother!’s legacy will be one of fan theories and referential epiphanies — not of any social or political change.

That’s the most disappointing thing about mother!. It’s a great technical achievement tied together by a fascinating concept: the conquest of mother earth by humanity, as told through a biblical allegory. But it’s too much. It’s too loud. It has no sense of humanity, no care for the social issues, little creative re-interpretation or respect for the allegorical messages. It’s Aronofsky with a big, lofty idea and too many worries about whether the audience will recognize his genius and get it.

We get it, Darren. We certainly get it.

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