MOTHER! (2017, Darren Aronofsky)
Sports journalist Max Kellerman was on TV the other day making the point that Colin Kaepernick is out of the league, ironically, due to the very thing he was criticized for protesting. He sat out the National Anthem because of systemic, institutionalized racism in American culture, and it turns out the on-balance racist institution that is the NFL ownership has punished him for it. I bring this up because much of the hatred of MOTHER! that I’ve seen online is a reaction to the same criticisms Aronofsky is making of humanity at large.
There are many things this film is a parable, metaphor, or allegory of, and in ways it’s a Rorschach test for ideology — whatever you want to put on it, Aronofsky has given you fuel to do. But it’s clear (from NOAH, at the very least) that he has some arguments to make against Christianity and its poisonous effect on its fervent followers. (Even going back to REQUIEM, he’s long been wary of the lies we tell ourselves to avoid the harsh truths about the human condition). Aronofsky makes no bones about showing just how much people hate when their core ideals are challenged and how blindly they’re willing to follow that which makes them feel safe or valuable. As a work of art, MOTHER! is anything but a safe narrative with a conventional, feel-good sense of calm and seductive cajoling. It’s a bitter, mean-spirited, wide-eyed attack on the sleepy complacency that infects much of conventional cinema, and of conventional thought as well.
Not that everyone who hates this movie is objecting to its unlikable assault on expected narratives — certainly you’re welcome to despise this thing for any number of reasons. But the control it has over its manipulation of audience expectation, emotion, and reaction is pretty astounding. The pace is expert, the removal of all safeguards is well-calculated, and the conclusion is both shocking and inevitable. This thing is crazy fucked-up, and it’s pretty great for the most part.
One way it masterfully engages the audience with its protagonist is that every shot is one of Jennifer Lawrence, either close-up, following from behind, or framed center-punched so you can’t look away. If it’s not, it’s her point of view. Only until one explosive moment, minutes before the end of the movie, does it finally — and justifiably — break that dogged insistence. Through her eyes we see a story about artistic obsession, environmental collapse, jealousy, the paradox of creation and destruction, and all sorts of probably-Biblical references that I’m too ignorant to understand (I’m in the bottom 1% of all people in terms of knowledge of that book, so what do I know from Bibles). And even if you can’t groove on those themes, it’s hard to deny just how visually acute this thing is shot and edited — the descent into madness that happens in this house is a gorgeously orchestrated slippery slope, so you can hardly pinpoint what’s really so different between two housewives sharing a glass of lemonade and a literal war zone.