My very good friend Consuelo Mackintosh lives with her boyfriend who happens to be a dead ringer for Javier Bardem. One night, Javier 2.0 invited a group of people over who became loud and annoying. It actually drove Consuelo out of the house. She decided an evening movie would be a nice way to kill some time before going back to the rabble invading her home and went to see mother! – an artistic exercise masquerading as a film about rabble invading a woman’s home. Consuelo chose this movie because it stars the original Javier, but it is also Jennifer Lawrence’s latest effort to prove her Academy Award was not a fluke.
I had no intention of seeing mother! – Maybe because it received both cheers and boos after its premiere at the Venice Film Festival. Maybe because it received an F on CinemaScore which measures audience’s reactions immediately after seeing a film on the first night of wide release. Or maybe because I just don’t appreciate titles that require punctuation. Whatever the reason, I was not interested until Consuelo called it artsy crap only film students can appreciate and not worth the price of admission for anyone else. What can I say? I think fifteen dollars is a small price to pay for artsy crap.
And that is just what mother! is – artsy crap. Emerging screenwriters often make the mistake of trying to produce their own art. We say we want our work to be polarizing because at least people are talking. It’s not what you know or who you know, but who knows you. The movie was written and directed by Lawrence’s real life paramour Darren Aronofsky, a big cheese in the film biz. Everyone knows him. His filmography includes Noah, Black Swan, The Wrestler, The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream and Pi. I mention so many to give you a sense of where this guy’s head is. So polarizing is good, but for the tested and certified successful writer/director like Aronofsky. You, me – not so much.
I’m going to give a basic overview, you can (and should) see the movie for yourself. THERE MAY BE SPOILERS HERE…
Overtly, a young wife (Lawrence) is married to a poet with writer’s block (Bardem) who invites a man to stay with them in their middle of nowhere fixer upper dream home. The man (Ed Harris) is mysteriously and has a strange wound in his rib area. The next day the man’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up, creating some tension and a special remnant from the poet’s life is broken. The poet, identified in the credits as Him, casts the man and woman out of the house, but before they leave their two sons (Domhnall and Brian Gleeson) arrive having an argument that leads to one son killing the other. Him allows the man and woman to hold their son’s memorial in the dream house and people come. And keep coming. Then they behave badly as they take advantage of their hosts’ hospitality. It infuriates the young wife who does her best to keep her home a paradise for two. It comes to a head when two of the intruders break a pipe and cause a flood. Uh-huh.
When the invaders are gone – and they just disappear, the young wife and Him have some post-fight sex leading to pregnancy. This is where the young wife becomes the titular mother! Her pregnancy inspires Him to create the best poetry of his existence. It is so amazing and inspirational it brings fans and acolytes to worship him at their paradise. Then shit gets real. The fawning and praise grows out of control. Everyone wants a piece of Him to the point that mother goes into labor and delivers the most perfect baby known to man.
The best scene is after the birth when Him wants to show the baby to the humans in the house but mother refuses, so he just waits for her to fall asleep to take the baby from her. It is a master class in directing and acting. Bravo, Mr. Aronofsky.
Once Him gives the baby to the masses, things spiral out of control quickly leading to chaos, disorder, destruction and murder. By the time the SWAT team and military style black ops task forces begin their work of cleaning up the human waste, most of the audience is checking their watches and looking for their parking validation. The film ends with a massive reset starting the story over with a new young wife; which I actually liked.
So is it artsy, pretentious or WTF?
Artsy – yeah. All the way. The direction is top-notch, especially keeping the mother’s perspective and completely subjective POV using close-ups and shaky camera movements to keep the audience on edge.
Pretentious – okay, I can see that. The Biblical allegories are obvious. The Book of Genesis with Adam and Eve (man and woman) in the dream house (Garden of Eden) forbidden to touch the remnant then breaking it (apple) and being cast out. Then their sons (Cain and Abel) arrive and the first murder is committed. Continuing to even including the flood (Noah) when the pipes burst. After Him writes an inspirational tome (presumably the New Testament) the people come to praise and seek guidance. They exhibit all of the archetypes attributed to humans – virtues and vices. There is a fool, cupbearer, wanderer, zealot and herald (a surprise appearance from Kristen Wiig).
The acolytes fawning all over Him get to the point of feeding his ego and the desire to share every aspect of his life with the audience, including his child who is murdered by the screaming fans. Sounds a little like a certain highfalutin’, wealthy mega writer/director we all know. People like Aronofsky worked for what they have then got lucky – no one is taking away their talent or skill – well done. But the audience is not interested in a metaphor on the perils of fame. So we’ll stick to the Biblical parable which hits the audience over the head with a stick and a brick and whatever is the visual equivalent of dropping a piano on one’s head. We get it. Mother Earth will explode unless we control ourselves.
Seriously? Is that the message here? In an interview, the auteur said he wanted to make a movie about Mother Earth from her perspective. Day 6 as it were, when Him created man. It all becomes too literal, especially the New Testament story with the birth of the baby Jesus and the fanatics consuming – literally (ick!) – the body of Christ. I get that it’s Communion, but it was a little much.
As for WTF… In essence, it was a great idea and only someone of Aronofsky’s caliber could have pulled it off. When we emerging screenwriters attempt to create allegories to Biblical stories, who do we think we are? You do not take on The Bible unless your message puts you on a level equal to the audience. The problem with mother! is Mr. Aronofsky has set himself above his audience. It’s preachy message of how we are killing our world, our society and ourselves is not new. We know this. We don’t need a movie to tell us. And to use the thriller, psychological horror genre marketing ploy was a fake out that most people could not abide. Again, it is not that mother! is a bad movie – quite the opposite, it’s pretty fantastic filmmaking, it’s the preaching and patronizing that pisses people off.
I suggest emerging screenwriters keep it simple and tell it straight. Save the fancy personal statements and artsy crap until you have a few gold statues on your mantle. My friend Consuelo can’t get her fifteen dollars back, but the next time Javier 2.0 invites a lot of people over, she can just blow up the house and let the day reset itself.