‘Mother!’ Is the Film We Deserve
I recently went to the movies. I enjoy going out alone. As I’ve said before: there is a fine difference between being alone and being lonely. I dig independence and I constantly aim to grow through it. I also enjoy avoiding the wonderful distraction of having friends sitting next to me in the theaters. Sometimes getting the giggles just happens. I digress. Due to the rather lame summer Hollywood produced, I hadn’t been too excited or optimistic about going to the movies. However, after hearing about Darren Aronofsky’s new film, Mother!, a breath of fresh air filled my lungs. I was thrilled to make a quick trip to the movies. I had heard so much about the film on twitter.
The trailer doesn’t give the viewer much more than the film feels like a psych thriller. On the surface, it’s a home invasion story that shows a bothered, disturbed, livid, and terrorized Jennifer Lawrence. Javier Bardem, who plays Lawrence’s partner in the movie, initially comes off as casual and oblivious to his wife’s questioning and eventual suffering. The trailer also features a brief yin-yang complex between a warm(ish) Ed Harris and a cold Michelle Pfeiffer. The two characters they play in the film are the first to stumble across this house in a nameless nowhere, aka the setting. In no time, scores of people congregate at this house for some unknown reason. On the face, Bardem’s character comes off as a possible cult leader. Clearly: there are spoilers ahead.
Ah, let’s fasten the seatbelts. Mother! starts kindly. The photography is neat and crisp. Our eyes are treated with pastels and soft lighting, and contrasting textures between linen, wood, hair, flowing clothing, and soft skin. Early on, the mise en scene appears too nice. A nearly perfect, or close to perfect, relationship is painted. A beautiful house seeing restoration is underway. The green and nature outside is calm and alive. The dominos are being lined up closely and a lot is pointing to this film revealing itself with some scares. It’s an easy way to depict shock and horror, establishing the contrast between “all is well” and “well shit” early on and a punch to the gut — respectively.
The characters are nameless in the film, which I liked. It keeps me from forgetting a character’s name years from now at some dinner party, snapping my fingers with rolling eyes, asking friends, “Who is it in that movie? The name. The name of her character. C’mon, you know. Ohhh, it’s on the tip of my tongue.” The use of no names throughout the film screams symbolism by itself. It’s a simple way to rid of any fuss or confusion. I like that simplicity.
Speaking of starkness, the movie is shot in a remarkably simple fashion. It’s refreshing, in the age of blue screens, explosions, and CGI. Mother!’s entirety is shot hand-held and only three camera techniques are utilized, much to the frustration of the editing team. Hand-held filming is a hit or miss with a lot of people. My friends either love or hate it. Those who don’t prefer the technique mention the natural bumpiness of the style as their biggest gripe. It induces dizziness and can be unbalanced. However, it works well in this film. I often was asking “how?” throughout the movie, referring to the way the camera practically danced and weaved around the set and the characters. The two dominating shots in the film are extreme close-ups and over the shoulder shots. The film uses less than five master shots, which is just crazy in modern film. Masters are angles that keep all players in view, often wide shots. In this movie, the camera is not used as a character. The camera is an enhancement on Jennifer Lawrence’s character, it’s her eyes. And I must say, Aronofsky is totally nailing the whole first-person POV and psyche dive. I thought the director did well with this in Black Swan (2011). Boy, he’s still got it in Mother! The way the camera is used alone forces the viewer into the movie. It’s a gripping journey where the seatbelt seems to be getting tighter as the movie rolls on. The viewer is poached in this thrilling substance.
For those who haven’t seen Mother! and/or have no intention of seeing the movie, I can only explain it in a weird mash-up of other films. This movie reminds me of a meeting between Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Misery (1990), and Possession (1981). Bardem’s character, a poet, is seen struggling to produce any work — paralleling Jack Torrance in Kubrick’s version of The Shining (1980).
But I’m not the only one who saw those kinds of similarities; don’t let me be the judge. Paramount and Protozoa, the film’s production companies, drove the marketing of the film in some not-so-subtle fashion. And this only contributes to the over all experience of watching the movie. It’s not-so-subtle. It’s unapologetic. It’s in your face.
Mother!’s climax unfolds during its final third. The house, in which the protagonist can never leave, is subject to invasion. Hundreds of strangers find their way into the big home, clamoring inside as if they have a right to do so. In the nightmarish sequence, we witness a wake turn into a college party. Madness ensues and it appears that the strangers have no clear objective in the home, although their love for “the poet” is undeniable. The strangers dance, some paint the walls. Some steal material. The unmistakable strobe of police car lights enter the home. A break-in occurs. Then a war breaks loose. There’s no telling who is “good” or “bad” amid the mess. Guns are fired. Explosions erupt.
Lawrence’s character, under incredible amounts of fear and anger, is forced into the delivery of her child. The sea of people part (yes, I’m being biblical), allowing Lawrence’s and Bardem’s roles to find safety in a room. The ruckus and seemingly incessant commotion outside of the room come to a halt when the lady delivers her baby. To no surprise of the viewer whatsoever, the baby is a boy. We all know where this is headed from here. We all know that the people outside of the doors want to see and hold this newborn. The strangers send gifts to the new family of three — fruit and clothing. The new father pleads with his partner to hand over the kid. She denies his request, already having been manipulated and used by him on multiple occasions. She clings to this child as if he is the only thing that entirely belongs to her. Her head see-saws, as she falls in and out of consciousness. And every time she comes close to finding sleep, she recoils awake. She sharply glares at the father in the chair beside her. She eventually falls into a slumber, no longer than a couple of minutes (if that). The father is carrying the baby out the doors. The strangers cheer and watch in awe. By the time Mother gets to Father to retrieve the child, she finds only the cloth he was wrapped in. The baby is carried off aggressively in the air, crowdsurfing. His neck is broken, probably causing his death. Visual is lost on the baby and by the time Mother gets to what’s left of him, it’s far too late. The remains of a small human rest on a shrine, surrounded by lit candles and pictures. The strangers are literally eating the baby with cupped hands before them. Mother loses her mind and destroys the house with fire. Then the whole movie would presumably start again at its ending. We see a different girl in Lawrence’s identical place, turning around and calling, “Baby.” And this is the way the movie began. It could be called a reoccurring nightmare.
Aftermath and Themes Explored
I love it when movies make you ask, “What did I just watch?” I got a little laugh when walking to my car in the parking lot, recognizing a couple I had seen in the same theatre. They were holding hands. The girl said, to her boyfriend, “It didn’t make any sense. I don’t think I liked it, and the last twenty minutes were so disgusting.”
Mother! Is being heralded as a divisive and incredibly polarizing film. And I get it. The imagery may come off as too aggressive to some. Others detest the religious symbolism. The film is quite literally shocking the casual mainstream audiences of cinema fans. Furthermore, it’s an outlier of sorts — when lining it up closely to the other movies of today. Mother! is graded at 68% on Rotten Tomatoes. RogerEbert.com rates it 3.5 out of 4 stars. IMDb holds it at 6.9 out of 10 stars. However, where there is good there is bad — albeit “bad” is a point of view in this case. CinemaScore, a company that exit polls moviegoers’ opinions on a movie on opening night, gave the extremely rare (coveted?) grade of “F” to Mother! For context, CinemaScore has been around since 1979 and has only given the F grade to 19 films…ever. Aronofsky responded to the F by saying: “What’s interesting about that is, like, how if you walk out of this movie are you not going to give it an ‘F?’ It’s a punch. It’s a total punch.”
Again, I can maybe see why this film got that score. It’s a total rock-n-roll fuck you to human complacency and the static state of Hollywood. People don’t like the ugly truth, especially when they see that truth blatantly playing out on a big screen as a reflection of them and their lifestyle and company.
The movie makes you think; it gets the blood flowing. I can understand how some won’t “get it.” And that in itself has always been a bane of mine when sharing an artistic experience with someone. Philistines bemoan, “I don’t get it.” What if I were to tell you that that is not the point. What if you weren’t supposed to “get it?” Can we let art just be what it is? Even if whatever it is is confusing and nonsensical and messy? Although we have an egotistical, fragile, phony person living in the White House right now, we are still somewhat living in — I hate using the trope — a “PC Culture.” I wouldn’t recommend this movie to anyone who is looking for a “comfort food” film. As much as I love any Star Wars movie, Airplane! (I just noticed that Airplane! also uses an exclamation point in the title, too. Cool), any cheesy 80s horror film, sometimes I crave a slap to the face. I like the shock that comes heavily with movies like Mother!
Mulling over the themes in this movie can be exhausting. It’s ambiguous. I’m certain film students will dissect the hell out of it for a final or something. I know some obsessive cinephiles will re-watch this film multiple times to get a good grasp on it. You can look at this movie from a distance and recognize it for many narratives. It reminds me of statistics in the sense that if you have enough evidence to support a claim, you can prove nearly any point for being true (even if it is erroneous). That being said, Mother! can be a film about a lot of different things. I’ll only scratch the surface of what it offers.
The Alpha of Religion
This is a neat way to watch the film. In hindsight, thinking that the film is a tale about the establishment of religion, it works. Specifically, Christianity is the subject. The house is in an unnamed paradise, the Garden of Eden. The house itself is Earth; it has a beating heart. The first stranger who knocks on the door is Adam. Adam reveals himself as a fan of “the poet” aka God. (I mean, his fans carry pictures of him around in their luggage). Adam’s wife is known of and appears only after we see a wound on the man’s side — where his ribs are. Here’s our Eve. Their sons show up at the house and when one kills the other, it’s a clear nod to Cain and Abel. The strangers who invade the home represent the men and women of Earth. The film’s leading lady gets pregnant with her first child. The baby is a boy. “God” delivers the newborn to the people of Earth, and they immediately worship him. They go on to literally eat the baby too, which rings of communion. The Mother!, outraged, then sets the house/Earth aflame, thus destroying it for a while.
The more curious part of this theme — or theory — is knowing that the strangers/people of Earth were quiet and rather peaceful until their poet’s baby arrived. Furthermore, the poet/God couldn’t write or produce work until he gained a following. He needed humans. Or is that too naive a thought? Was humanity just a product of God’s boredom in this film?
The movie could be an illustration of celebrities dealing with fame. It could be about fabricated lionization, confused priorities, false idolization. With the big names in the film (Pfeiffer, Lawrence, Bardem), one can’t curb the fact knowing that they, in real life, are famous; we can stuff our closets with all the awards they’ve won throughout their careers.
Bardem’s character, a writer dealing with writer’s block, has already harvested the fruits of his career. When a ground breaking poem is produced (in the final third of the movie), fans flock to the writer’s home. And, as I summarized before, the rest plays out like a mess. There’s no escaping the “mess” of fame, too. That is until Mother! burns it all down.
This is the big one, and it is the story in which Aronofsky wanted to tell. Additionally, it is the theme that resonates the loudest. That’s because it is relevant. The film is a remarkably artistic way to educate the casual masses, to shock the daily torpor and ignorance. As the tall title at the top of this piece indicates, this movie is the film that we deserve today. North America has recently endured the wrath of Mother Nature by witnessing the destruction of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, Jose. Mexico has braved a couple of horrible earthquakes. As if we aren’t “woke” enough to climate change by now, Mother! is the cherry on top. It is a wake-up call. And the movie isn’t being received well by many maybe because the truth is too scary to face. The truth the movie points to is the incredible — and sometimes invisible — abuse of the only home humanity has ever known.
Jennifer Lawrence, playing Mother Earth, deals with strangers coming onto her land. These people trash the home. They happily paint the walls, thinking that they are helping. They take her food and water and possessions, thinking that they are entitled to it all. They don’t listen to her requests. Her cries fall on deaf ears. Eventually, human behavior leads her to the breaking point. Now, does that sound frighteningly familar?…it should. Because climate change is real.
Out of five stars, style and writing and tempo and story line taken into consideration, I give this movie three and a half. For it’s intent, for it’s message, it’s a home run. Five out of five. This movie has weighed on my mind the past few days. How can it not? With the humanitarian crisis we’re watching in Puerto Rico. (By the way, if you’d like to donate toward the relief efforts in PR, you can do so here — United for Puerto Rico. Also here, at UNICEF.)
The film’s sound design and mixing in Mother! were excellent. Javier Bardem delivers a strong and memorable performance. His role in No Country for Old Men (2007) is still, in my opinion, one of the greatest performances on the big screen in the past ten years. I’d recommend Jennifer Lawrence fans to watch this movie simply because you’ll see her playing a different sport, so to speak. Michelle Pfeiffer is outstanding in this picture, too.
Violence, and blood guts are touchy tools to use on film. Unwarranted, they are rather dangerous and contribute nothing to a movie. Aronofsky summons the tools well in this film. He’s personified the relationship between humanity and Mother Earth. And as for the exclamation point in the film’s title. In itself, it’s a howl to the moon. It’s a “HELLO CAN YOU HEAR ME!” The film could be called Mother Fucker! and still deliver the same message.
As I watched the film, I had this mental tug-of-war where I kept saying: People will love this film, or People will hate this film. One thought stuck out, however. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it becomes a “cult classic” of sorts. I can see it being projected at film festivals. I can see Mother! making its rounds in the horror film fest circuits. It’d be interesting to play the film in a doubleheader, adjacent to — preferably following — Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (2006). Also, hats off to the horror genre in film right now. IT (2017) is raking in the dough. Leave it to the macabre to bring Hollywood back to life.
Hugo is an actor and classically trained tenor. He finds work onstage and his interests cover ground from politics to art and gastronomy. Follow him on twitter (@hugosaysgo) for humor and odd observations or instagram (@hugosnaps) for photography. Happy reading. & now more than ever, please recycle. :)