I wanted to enjoy Darren Aronofsky’s MOTHER!, really I did.
I blame the vagueness of its marketing campaign. The trailer lured me in like a thriller-loving fly into a venus-thriller flytrap. The shrill and haunting scoring, the vague and foreboding nature of it; they dangled a dramatic mystery in front of me and I wanted all of the pieces. I wanted all of the parts. I wanted the sum. But a sum I am still waiting for. I bought a seat for a thriller and ended up sitting through a steaming heap of art-house metaphors. Where is my Rosemary’s Baby?
Perhaps it was my fault. It and Mother! were both high on my ‘highly-anticipated-but-cautiously-not-optimistic‘ list of September releases. I was excited for both, yet without the confidence they would actually live up to expectations. It surprised me. The film leapt through each of my hurdles unscathed; original, inventive, frightening, not trampling on its source material, not sticking too tight to its source material. It was then I made my biggest mistake.
I got excited for Mother!.
Mother! is a mysterious beast. The film boasts a powerhouse cast; Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Harris. For the most part, I like those actors. I trust Ed Harris. Michelle Pfeiffer generally has my back. Jennifer Lawrence isn’t really my type, but I believe her when she does things; like- oh, you know, walk around a creaky house for two hours screaming at intruders.
This film is nothing more than a giant, moving metaphor, with smaller, stranger metaphors swimming underneath. It isn’t what it is. Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) isn’t a wife, living in a house, never leaving to get groceries or mow the lawn. Him (Javier Bardem) doesn’t have writer’s block, or make questionable decisions as a husband and father. None of it is real, and so I don’t care to believe the faces they make at me. Acting, or whatever they call it. I yearn the characters to rattle us all back towards reality, but they don’t. They opt to continue on in the metaphor, all while I secretly hope an actor will break the fourth wall and tell me it will make sense in the end, before getting back to re-enacting the Book of Genesis.
The worst problems about jumbled-up art films like Mother! – is there is always some level of pretension that inevitably surrounds them. A big white line is drawn in chalk, dividing the audience. There are those in the audience that understandddd the film, and those that didn’t get the movie. The smart and the dumb. (Don’t worry, I’m in the ‘Dumb’ camp.) ‘Contemplating the human condition’ isn’t exclusive to films with buttered up visuals. I hate to break it to you art-house addicts, but every single film to ever exist is about the human condition. Go watch Forrest Gump and tell me you don’t feel something. Yeah. And that film plays on the most Walmarty of channels (read: basic) every Sunday. Heck, even Spice World has friendship and Girl Power going for it. If you can’t give me a narrative in a two-hour format, you should probably switch to Haiku’s.
Have you noticed that I haven’t run through the plot of this film yet? That’s because it was like watching someone on an acid trip who refuses to have an epiphany. It’s excruciating to watch, but you hope and you wait for a pay off. Pray, even. ‘Dear god, won’t someone please just put on an M. Night Shyamalan film?’
Here, let’s try. Go-Go Gadget, SYNOPSIZE!
Mother, though not a mother yet, is a renovation addict. She’s painstakingly worked to re-build Him‘s house, restoring it to its original state. We watch Mother carefully hand-match the yellow of a studio wall, taking great efforts to fix and renew. Him doesn’t care to renew. He wants to “breathe new life” into the house and create something entirely new. A published poet with an extreme case of writer’s block, desperately struggling to create something.
When Man (Ed Harris) comes calling, Mother (still not a mother) is immediately cautious of the weary traveller. Him is courteous and gracious, offering a drink and a place to stay for the night. Though she protests the decision at first, Mother dutifully produces clean linens and pulls out the trundle bed. She was right to be wary however, as something is amiss with Man that night. The sound of him being violently sick wakes Mother. She enters the bathroom to find her husband helping Man, who is keeled over a toilet. A fresh wound on his back is hidden – perhaps over a rib.
The next day, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) comes calling. She reveals herself to be Man’s wife. How fitting. Woman is daring and challenging. She treats Mother’s home as if it is hers to trample on; eating the lemons, discarding the laundry, breathing doubt into the atmosphere. But the nosy guests overstay their welcome in Mother‘s garden, sorry- house, after something forbidden is broken. Two dueling sons fulfill a prophecy, and then we are whirled into the future after Mother and Him instantly conceive. It’s not quite immaculate, but it might as well be.
What happens next is a trip deeper down the rabbit hole. There is no going back from here. Up until this point, we were still clinging to the hope that it all would mean something at the end. A bow could still be tied. But when the imagery starts to deviate farther and farther from probable reality, we are forced to sit through and wait it out. Our seat creaks as we become aware that theatre chairs are an uncomfortable place to be when not engrossed. Oh look, time doesn’t make sense. Maybe when it’s done, someone in the audience will obnoxiously explain the film as they leave the theatre. Fingers crossed.
Mother! is in theatres everywhere. If you want more thoughts on the film, Mother! will be the discussion of our upcoming podcast. Episode is out Thursday.
Choose Your own Adventure
Hey look a game! Were you going to see Mother! but want something different? Did you see it and feel dissapointed?
If you were looking for a Thriller:
Go watch What Lies Beneath instead. It’s a thriller. It’s in a house. It ties in a bow, you’ll like it. Also, Michelle Pfeiffer is in it. (Remember, she generally has our back)
If you still want something artsy but makes you less angry:
Try I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives in the House. It is beautifully weird and less infuriating. Pretty Thing is what I thought Mother! was going to try to emulate. I was wrong.