I watch movies because I want to like them, and I want to enthusiastically tell other people to watch them. I’m a complete nerd. I’m not a hate watcher. I want to be amazed. I’m rooting for you. We were all rooting for you! (Tyra Banks, America’s Next Top Model). I also watch movies that I know that I am not going to agree with spiritually. For instance, I faithfully and routinely watch Lars von Trier’s films even though I think that he is hella problematic and bleak even on his happiest day because he is authentic. He is expressing his genuine view of the world, and while I think that he needs a lot of help, I appreciate his work as an artist because I never feel like his films are empty, intellectual, pretentious, masturbatory exercises in philosophizing. von Trier lives and breathes his truth. He makes stories that I may find repugnant, but feel real and are absorbing.
I actually enjoy and am not shocked by Darren Aronofsky’s films, including Black Swan, The Wrestler, even Noah. I thought The Fountain was aight (sic, slang pronunciation preferred) and rolled my eyes at ∏, aka Pi, which I saw in college and even then had little patience for when Aronofsky became heavy handed. Be weird. Be provocative. Be profound. Be anything but predictable and literal, which is what Mother! was to me. I purposely avoided ALL previews of the film because I knew that I would see any Aronofsky film eventually and did not want to inadvertently see the best scenes out of context. Maybe I see too many movies, but from the opening scene, I instantly thought, “It is a fucking allegory,” and knew exactly what was going to happen. Then I spent the next two hours and one minute hoping that I was wrong, but I was not. By the end of the film, I thought, “I just paid $10 on a Friday night to be told to go fuck myself for the way that I consume his work. Well, he won’t have to worry about me doing that again.” Edgar Allan Poe called. He wants you to follow through a little more.
Mother! is a literal visual interpretation of the creative process. If you were watching the movie as a play, you would be less confused and tricked into believing that you just saw something deep, because you didn’t. A play would be flatter and more painful to watch. The characters in the film are not actual human beings, but representations of concepts. Aronofsky, as a creative person, is exploring the idea of why we take the beautiful world that we create and go through a cyclical process of exploiting and perverting it. He asks himself why it isn’t enough for the creation to simply exist when you know other people are going to ruin it with their love or hate. These are great questions. I’m just not interested in them, but you may be. If you are, good for you, but he is not the first person to do this, and he won’t be the last.
Maybe I see too many movies, but my one and done film in which I could still be surprised when characters are not actually people, but concepts was Identity. I’m not saying that Identity is a better film than Mother! (although I did enjoy it more)—apples and oranges, but I am saying that it was the first and last time that I was surprised by the concept. Identity used the concept to depict the inner turmoil of mental illness couched in the sensationalism of a murder mystery to garner audiences. Real talk, but didn’t Inside Out, which I did not see, do the same thing? Mother! uses it for loftier, more intellectual aspirations, but they both want the same thing: butts in seats because no one would watch the movie if the film told the story straight. The main difference between the two films is that as viewers, we never get a glimpse of the real world beyond this allegorical framing because that world would be Aronofsky.
Mother! is successful because it elicited a powerful reaction from me. I hated it and am trying to dissuade people from seeing it if they are going in expecting Rosemary’s Baby or a horror film, which for the record, I was not. Unfortunately the pitfall of hating this movie is that you just get lumped together with the lout who calls Jennifer Lawrence’s character a stuck-up cunt. I accept that a creator will feel ambivalent, at best, even harmed by the way that people perceive the work and harried by our attention, but I was not waiting around breathlessly, desperate for the next Aronofsky film before watching this movie, and I definitely won’t be afterwards. If it is that serious for him, I’ll just check out of the process altogether. No one is trying to Princess Diana him (are they?). I’ll just self-select myself out of the callous cannibal cabal.
I have seen people talk about how Mother! examines gender roles, and it does on some level, but because the entire film is so subjective and an expression of Aronofsky’s psyche, I think that it really reveals his perception of life generally and being in the center of a whirlwind of your own creation so he does use gender to explore his ambivalent role in the chaos. Women can be quite brutal, even executioners in the film. I thought the more profound part of the film, specifically the hurly burly, chaotic sequence was how a creative work becomes controversial in multiple realms: the political, the religious and the commercial media. All these worlds feel threatened and try to reappropriate the original creation for their own purposes or destroy it altogether. I actually think that is the least outlandish part of the film, considering that we live in a world in which Vaclav Havel existed.
For those of you who disagree with my reading of this movie as autobiographical and believe that it is really a Biblical allegory, yes, and SO? Aronofsky has always explored Biblical themes in his movies. He made a movie using a mish mash of Bible stories then called it Noah, and I’m totally fine with it. His main characters always go through a type of passion play and die for art. There is always an element of transcendence from the material world to the spiritual world when his main characters surpass his or her personal desires and are willing to give everything in the pursuit of pure creation. Aronofsky’s use of Bible imagery in Mother! lends a veneer of sagacity and complexity to a narcissistic, pretentious meditation on being a brilliant, conflicted genius. Peter Greenaway called. He wants Baby of Macon back.
Mother! did give me one thing that I have always wanted more of in my films: Michelle Pfeiffer. If you are a Pfeiffer fan, definitely see it then leave when she leaves the impromptu gathering, and it will be worth the money. She made Javier Bardem seem like he was phoning it in, and I love him. Even Ed Harris did not stand a chance, and he is a legend. I actually think that Jennifer Lawrence can act. Similar to John Cusack, she wills herself to fill a role that she may not be suited for (American Hustle), but she does not always succeed (Joy). I think that she held her own and allowed the emotion to play fully on her face, but think that Aronofsky did not give her enough time to really rage, which was disappointing, but not surprising for a film that I felt wasted my time, money, good will and zero expectations.
Sarah G. Vincent is an infovore who is originally from NYC and has lived in Massachusetts since 1993. She received an A.B., cum laude, in History and Film Studies from Harvard University in 1997 and received a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2000, where she was also an editor and arts reporter at the Crimson/FM and worked at the Harvard Film Archives. After graduating from Harvard Law School, she published “The Cultural Context of the Shopping Mall: Tension Between The Patron’s Right of Access and the Owner’s Right to Exclude.” She is in a committed, exclusive spiritual relationship with the Triune God and for more information, directs readers to look at the Apostle’s Creed.