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Why are you painting my house?

Movie

mother!
aka Mother!
(2017)

 

Darren Aronofsky has a reasonably-sized chin, but on this evidence, he’ll have reduced it to a forlorn stump in no time at all with all that stroking. And then set the remains alight. And then summoned it back into existence for a whole new round of stroking. mother! is a self-indulgent exercise in unabated tedium in the name of a BIG idea, one no amount of assertive psued-ing post-the-fact can turn into a masterpiece. Yes, that much-noted “F” cinemascore was well warranted.

Darren bless ’im, who is 48, not 18, responded to the resounding audience response by claiming he “wanted to make a punk movie and come at you”. Yeah, right. It’s a bit like Ed Wood saying “I intended to make terrible movies – honest”. Still, it’s always worth catching an Aronofsky joint, as the lofty plain ’pon which he floats is as likely to turn up something interesting as something leaving one entirely dissatisfied.

At least, I thought so. But this makes two movies on the trot where there’s been nary a sliver of provocative intellectual content to make up for the seemingly endless banality of his narratives. Whatever he’s serving up clearly worked for Jennifer Lawrence, however, still young, naïve and desperate for artistic legitimacy and to prove it she’s willing to emphasise the “artistry” of her form and simultaneously fall for her “old enough to be her father” director.

She’s great here, mind. Her continued success brings ever more naysayers, but even in a project as botched as this, perhaps even more so because of that intrinsic botch as there’s little to latch onto other than the lead’s conviction, her giving 110 percent is never in doubt. And yet, all for nothing.

And she’s ably supported, no doubt about that. True, Javier Bardem is doing absolutely nothing you couldn’t see him do as a Bond villain more entertainingly – one thing he doesn’t have is a face for trusting, so casting him is a loaded dice – but Michelle Pfeiffer is surprisingly remorselessly sharp as woman and Ed Harris coughs like a trooper as man; that Eve is a right bitch, but Adam’s an oblivious trooper?

Meanwhile, their kids include Domhnall Gleeson as the oldest son on the bad side yet, it’s curiously the positive Abel – Brian Gleeson – who comments, standing in for his director, on the nice view of mother’s J-butt. Clearly, all concerned saw something in their director’s punk-flavoured brain fart. And clearly the execs who funded this to the tune of $30m saw something (J-Law signing on the dotted line?) The cosmic egg’s on them now, of course.

I’ve had my issues with Aronofsky’s fare in the past, most notably the addiction porn of Requiem for a Dream, with which mother! shares a certain unalleviated nightmarish torpor. If that’s your buzz (and for some it clearly is), more power to you. That movie at least boasts a great soundtrack. I can barely recall anything of mother!’s. Probably because it doesn’t have one.

I’m all for “What the hell is going on?” plots, less so when the possibilities presenting themselves only go to make the movie less interesting. For me, a metaphor tends to work best when the text isn’t screaming at you “There’s a metaphor here, can you spot what it is?” In the case of mother!, it’s the worst such example, since there’s nothing to engage withaside from that subtext.

This conceit reaches its turgid apotheosis as ellipses illustrate the breakdown of mother’s home, by way of her pregnancy and Him’s success, invaded by celebrants of his quickening fame who quickly turn it into a free party, cause a flood (ho-ho-ho!) and then a police raid (er…), around which point the endeavour begins to resemble nothing so much as a bloated pop video, one without a catchy tune to soothe the fraying images.

My kneejerk response to a piece like this, one that leaves me cold, is that those appreciating it are seeing it as good because it’s about something, rather than it being about something and, as a bonus, also good. So I won’t suggest that.

There’s been talk about how anxiety-inducing mother! is, but unless your one of the few (and since only a few have gone to see it, that’s even fewer) who didn’t realise it was a parable/allegory/metaphor/sink plunger up the jaxi, that very emotive response isn’t going to be considerable and deep-felt, but tempered by a realisation that nothing you’re watching really counts for anything, because nothing you’re watching is “real”. Which is why Jennifer really ought to have had (Sir) Anthony Hopkins on set to advise her not to put herself through the wringer for an ultimate absence of a hill of beans.

There are hints of Pinter in there, in terms of the closeted, non-sequitur-driven characterisation and interaction, but the complete absence of a Pinter-esque sense of humour (a prick, not in the hands of Pinter, merely becomes an Aronofosky aggravation point) soon negates such a notion. And the queasy sensation of student theatre persists (which is probably why most of the cast, nostalgically, latched onto the project).

Occasionally, there’s something funny, like Ed coughing his heart up (funnier if it were his lungs), and a Sam Raimi-style blood-spattered light bulb (although, they tend to be better in a bona-fide Sam Raimi movie).

Occasionally, it becomes dramatically involving (mainly due to Lawrence), but if you aren’t invested in this, as you can’t be once it becomes clear these characters aren’t relatable in any kind of empathic sense, but merely stand for something/someone else, association is cast by the way side. So the Polanski parallels are void. Even more obvious narrative similarities are quickly dissociated, be they the brainscape free association of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or the acid-reflux of 1408. None of it really matters.

So all that’s left is the viscera – something the numbing Requiem for a Dream also fell back on as its doorstop – which equates it with any old horror movie, minus the thrills. Sure, a wee babe can be torn apart by a mob of zealots, and J-Law can have the shit kicked out of her, but since they represent something else, the effect is tempered. Aronofsky wears all this on his aforementioned much-stroked chin.

The director-writer-producer-god has helpfully commented on what his “punk” opus is all about, for us plebs out there. I was actually tending towards some kind of mangled gnostic interpretation during viewing, with Him as Yaldabaoth and mother as Sophia – after all, Aronofsky the self-pronounced atheist had previously gone and done another picture about the influence of his immaterial God – but it appears to be more mundane than that.

J-Law is, simply, Mother Nature, reviled, abused and desecrated by all who should adore her (creation itself is not corrupt, only the blighted human element that would seek to blight otherwise perfection, perfection being J-Law in her chiffon nightie).

Yeah, it’s that deep. Certainly, justification for two hours of sub-Polanski climbing the walls. Noah also carries an environmental theme (as well as themes of child sacrifice), but whatever its flaws (and they are legion) it does at least have a coherent storyline to justify its excesses and indulgences.

Honestly, you come away from mother! wondering if BP didn’t fund the thing, in the hope that natural-born naturalists would be so disabused by the masturbatory content that they foreswore all allegiance to the cause (there weren’t any representatives, that I could see, of those living in harmony with mother J-Law, despite a litany of precedents in the planet’s long history; perhaps Aronosky has been Mandela-affected).

Given his construct, Aronofosky is also suggesting, despite his avowed beliefs, a (disavowed?) concept of a god whose general indifference will allow that, whatever indignities Mother Nature suffers, and whatever interventions there are along the way (albeit, even prior to giving more than a “Waaaa!”, they will be summarily cut short), there’ll be another cycle along in just a while, so why bother trying to preserve anything anyway?

Of course, one can also draw attention to the imprecision of his allegorical device. Mother Nature must incorporate mother Mary for convenience sake. And what of the yellow powder? It’s also inescapable that there’s the “artist as God” metaphor, a user of his lover/muse who will inevitably cast her aside (Weisz) for someone new (Lawrence) and the cycle goes on and on, for at least as long as Darren’s increasingly splintered chin.

Having vouched on the side of the naysayers, I’ll admit mother! might make a pretty decent short film (and a better animated short film; possibly an even better comedy, although you have to be careful there – at any rate, one needs only glance at Aronofsky’s CV to see he isn’t one for evoking chuckles at bedtime. But hey, the New York Times called it “a hoot”, no doubt referencing the dying cry of a shotgunned owl). That is, shorn of the flab and indulgence, and self-important posturing, that only someone who has made two successive multi-$100m successes can perpetrate.

You can do this kind of thing well, and on point, if you don’t just let it go on as long as your lack of an editor or now-insensible producer will allow. Is being painfully self-consciously artistic something that deserves congratulation and reward, further cementing your position in a delusionary ivory tower? Perhaps so. But a pseud is a pseud is a pseud, and Aronofsky has undiluted pseud sprouting from his chinny-chin-chin.

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