mother! ★★★½


At times patently ridiculous, mother! is also a film that is working overtime to get its Message across. With a little bit of Polanski and a whole lot of Lars von Trier, Darren Aronofsky makes the black comedy that he always had inside him, and it's no less audacious for his having built it out of spare parts.

After all, some of us have been laughing at Aronofsky for quite some time, so it's refreshing to think that this time, we may be laughing with him. The aggressively earnest degradation of Requiem for a Dream, or the degradedly aggressive earnestness of The Fountain, have always had their moments of rupture, and with Black Swan it seemed as though Aronofsky was ready to embrace his inner Jess Franco, if not truly recognize his place in the scheme of things -- a maker of ripe, English-language telenovelas. But he always pulled back until now.

mother! is a Janus-faced allegory, and where would the fun be if Captain Darren weren't attempting to have his faith and eat it too? On the one hand, it's about the eternal struggle to create, with a blocked poet (Javier Bardem) sacrificing his wife and muse (Jennifer Lawrence) in order to bring forth genius into a sick and hungry world. (The poet's "baby," birthed by Lawrence but midwifed by Bardem, is offered up as food for the heathens. Child is fodder to the Man!)

But on the other hand, mother! is a feminist examination of the denigration of the domestic sphere. Lawrence is a literal home-maker for Bardem, working to restore his destroyed family house and keeping him in food and drink while he attempts to write. Once he is able to produce, she is regarded as extraneous, the home front a menial distraction.

The central portion of mother!, which is marvelous on both an intellectual and a technical level, emphasizes the Lawrence character's needs and desires as trivial, the material demands of life as a nagging necessity for the vaunted poet. This is made evident when the older couple (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) show up, a kind of faux-benevolent home invasion that soon becomes one opportunity after another to humiliate "Her." Eventually, a swarming group of the Poet's acolytes takes over the house, treating Lawrence like a gauche interloper.

Like the suitors in Penelope's home in "The Odyssey," their sense of entitlement is both comical and shocking. At every turn, they seem to demand that "She" justify her very existence, and Lawrence's beleagured character is cast as a shrew just for attempting to maintain basic order. Aronofsky asks us to consider whether artistic creation really demands the orgiastic anarchy and unmitigated violence into which Lawrence and Bardem's home devolves. And is Lawrence a "nag" for wanting her own work respected?

I find mother!'s critique of gender and creativity compelling because it speaks loudly and indicts the very worst parts of me. When I write, I frequently have to pause because my wife or my son calls me away, to tend to some domestic matter, or to share some interesting idea with me. Sometimes it's frustrating. I would prefer uninterrupted solitude. But those flashes of frustration are momentary, because I recognize that I have made, and continue to make, the decision to live with other people, people I love more than I love myself or my work.

That doesn't mean that I don't have those ugly flashes, though -- a desire to escape from the home and disappear into my work. But this is not only impossible but, let's face it, a disgusting white male prerogative. mother! reminded me how lucky I am to exist in the domestic sphere. It also reminded me that sometimes I can really be a motherfucker!

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