The worst movie of the decade? So bad you’ll want to poke your eyes out? A snoozefest of epic proportions? Come on, now!
If you love the language of cinema and you are constantly bitching that “nothing original comes out of Hollywood anymore,” then you should be a champion for Darren Aronofsky‘s “Mother!” regardless of whether you love it or hate it. A lot has been said about this divisive film but proclaiming this a bad movie isn’t correct or fair. I wouldn’t even call it self-indulgent, and I’ll admit that I fully expected it to be. While intense and aggressive with a bloody, head-scratching, harsh finale, this is an eyeball-popping, darkly gorgeous film that has a lot to say in the most creative, ghastly way possible.
Aronofsky has created a fully realized abstract artistic vision that will of course be loathed by any fan of “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.” The studio has done this film a true disservice by choosing to market it in the most misleading way possible: as an exciting retro horror flick. The film is horrific, but it’s horror aimed at the art house crowd and not for those enjoying bargain night at their local cineplex.
I’m not implying that only smart people will enjoy this film and it isn’t my intention to pat myself on the back or sound like a film snob, but I do believe that only those who are film literate will be able to appreciate Aronofsky’s shocking vision. That’s also not to say that this is a great movie (it isn’t), but it’s definitely not nearly as awful as its ‘F’ CinemaScore would lead you to believe.
I do feel for the folks that innocently buy a ticket for this film and expect a conventional psychological thriller. Think of it as less of a “Scream” and more of a mashup of “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Only God Forgives” that’s been co-directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and Lars von Trier. On the mainstream accessibility scale, with 1 being “straightforward and easy” to 10 being a “what the hell is going on, Mildred?,” I’d place this one at about an 8.
As is the case with all abstract expressionism, the theme is what you bring to the table, with your personal experiences ultimately shaping the message you take away from this one. The easy elements are the overt Biblical references, from Cain and Abel to Adam and Eve to a flood with fire and brimstone. Him (Javier Bardem) is portrayed as a god-like figure, if not a god himself. It’s how these references are utilized and displayed that leave them wide open to individual interpretation.
At times I took the film to be all of the following: a stern lecture on the evils of organized religion, a warning of humankind’s abuse of our planet and global warming, a condemnation of the current U.S. political system, a cautionary tale for the Instagram crowd about blurring the line between celebrity and commoner, a rebuke of obsessive creativity and its many tolls, and a brutally accurate opus on what it feels like to be a woman in the age of Trump. As a politically active female, I chose to ride with the last one and it shaped my perception of the story.
The film presents a disturbing, savage, and violent hatred towards women, with poor Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) being verbally, mentally, and physically abused at every turn. Strangers are intent on destroying her home and invading her personal space, her own husband loves parading around in the spotlight more than caring for his family, and murderous houseguests leave a bloody mess for her to wipe clean. She is always barefoot and often alone, crying out for a companion in the secluded, empty rooms. Mother is seen working on her house or doing laundry in the basement or cooking in the kitchen — the very definition of a homemaker. While she struggles in her gender role as a fixer, her husband serves as a creator (not only as a writer but as a god, and eventually as an actual father). Note that men aren’t portrayed in a positive light either, with Him seeking praise and adoration at the cost of his own family and privacy.
Terror and paranoia begin to take hold when Mother starts seeing strange things like the floor oozing blood, oil flooding the cellar, and a disgusting creature swimming down the toilet. Is she simply mentally imbalanced or is it something far more sinister?
My review is purposely abbreviated in order to avoid further spoilers, but I highly encourage everyone to see this film (if only to partake in the massive, impassioned debates it is certain to inspire). This is an ambitious work of extreme cruelty and a legitimately demanding test of endurance, but it’s also one of those films you simply have to see to believe.
“Mother!” may be the newest member of the Misleading Trailer Hall of Shame (“Drive” and “A Cure for Wellness” are other members), but that doesn’t make it a bad movie. It’s certainly a singular vision from director Darren Aronofsky and watching it, you have the feeling that he said exactly what he wanted to say . . . whatever that is (more on that later).
Don’t go to “Mother!” expecting a horror movie. It’s not — at least not really. Yes, there are some horrific elements, but it’s more of a psychological mind-F than a straight up scary movie (“Antichrist” and “The Neon Demon” come to mind as other films within this category). But what else would you expect from Aronofsky?
Jennifer Lawrence is Mother, who has lovingly restored and maintained the house where Him (Javier Bardem) was raised. Yes, these are really the character names. The film spends most of its time with GoPro-style close-up tracking shots of Lawrence traversing the house she has maintained, befuddled by what’s happening to her and her house. She has a deep love for Him, but his affection for her doesn’t often translate to concern. He does and says things that she doesn’t understand, invites people into their shared home without ever consulting her. As more and more of these unknown and unknowable visitors arrive, Mother’s alienation from the rest of the people in the house becomes increasingly pronounced. You know this is all going to reach a boiling point, but are uncertain what will happen when it gets there.
What I enjoyed most about the film was trying to piece it together to determine what, exactly, Aronofsky (who also wrote the script) is trying to say. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a fun movie to watch, but it is interesting. Clearly, what we’re watching here is an allegory. But for what? There are Biblical and religious overtones here; many parallels can be drawn between this movie and the creation story, in particular, but the film also uses organized religion as a tool to drive the story. But the movie isn’t about religion. It’s about climate change. And as a parable about climate change, it works fairly well.
Don’t go see “Mother!” if you want thrills or chills, or if you want something to veg out to after a long day at work. But if you’re interested in apologal storytelling, it is worth your time.