Darren Aronofsky sticks to his allegorical guns with his newest flick, mother!
Some might see Darren Aronofsky as American film’s embodiment of enfant terrible. To many, he is quite the cinematic provocateur. His films are visceral, gruesome and downright disturbing at times. They upend conventions, norms, and narrative logic, pushing the limits of film to new, unexplored boundaries. From the maddening descent into addiction to Requiem for a Dream to the skin-crawling haptic moments in Black Swan, Aronofsky appears to love making his audience’s squirm–a personalized trait that his newest feature mother! seems to showcase in all its shocking glory.
mother! tells the story of a seemingly idyllic couple. They live in a secluded Victorian house, away from noise, pollution, and yes, even cellphones. The man (which the film’s credits categorize as Him–more on that later) is a writer’s block ridden poet, played by the always mesmerizing Javier Bardem. His wife (the supremely talented Jennifer Lawrence) is an endearing, caring, and nurturing woman who works tirelessly to shower Bardem’s character with love and adoration. But soon, their picture-perfect life is upended with the arrival of a chaotic couple (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer).
As with Aronofsky’s other films, the religious allegories are heavy and numerous in mother!. It is certainly nothing new from the Brooklyn native. From his directorial debut, Pi, to his more recent effort, Noah, Aronofsky has always been fixated with God, and more importantly, God’s relationship with man. Aronofsky seldom celebrates religion in his films, for they are but institutes that purport to house God (or again, man’s idea of God). Instead, Aronofsky frequently subverts these religious institutions, playing with the notions and stories that the majority of humanity has so brazenly accepted as reality.
But mother! is perhaps the director’s most audacious effort to do so yet. Whether it is Genesis’ story of Cain and Abel or His (I told you I’d come back to it) Old Testament-like incessant jealousy and burning desire for admiration, mother! works tirelessly to paint a religious metaphor—and all the horrid acts that go with it. As Richard Dawkins once wrote, “The God of the Old Testament is…a capriciously malevolent bully.” Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Bardem’s character is both detestable and charming. He is the embodiment of both, a characterization that escalates to near ridiculousness by the end of the film.
What begins as an intriguing, albeit slow crawling narrative soon morphs into a cacophony of insanity, violence, and chaos. It seems more like a filmic rendition of Pieter Brueghel’s 1592 painting, The Triumph of Death than a narratively grounded film. It overwhelms the senses and yet brilliantly spellbinds us into a narrative whirlpool. And while some may point out that the film’s last act strangely and unfittingly accelerates to a blistering pace, it is hardly out of place—after all, what we are seeing is the metaphorical history of Earth and man’s place on Earth.
Aronofsky played with this notion in Noah. In an absorbing five-minute sequence, Aronofsky was able to show the history of the universe and man’s place in it. But what the director crammed into a five-minute scene in Noah, he explored in a two-hour endeavor with mother!. From the lonesome existence of Him (God) and mother (Mother Nature) to His inspiration for a new “book” (the Bible?), the film unfolds just like man’s history—in an exponential manner. Therefore, the last act’s eye-watering speed is in many ways reflective of the last century or so. The destructive, selfish, and horrific manner in which man has treated Earth since the discovery of industry is what we are seeing. As one destructive individual responds to mother’s question as to why they are doing what they are doing: “so they knew we were here.” That individual may as well have been a capitalist during the Industrial Revolution.
In its simplest sense, mother! is an allegorical tale of God’s relationship with mother nature and how that relationship is upended by His incessant need to be adored, worshipped and idolized by his fans—or mankind. And while it at times can seem pedantic and rather ostentatious, mother! is a wondrous film that is as entertaining as it is disturbing. From the wondrous cinematography of regular collaborator Matthew Libatique to the hypnotic acting prowess of Bardem and Lawrence, mother! is a triumphant return after the lackluster Noah. But while some may be put-off by the oft-upsetting sequences in the film, mother! is nonetheless a powerful allegorical work that works tirelessly to demonstrate the inner thinking of a true auteur.
But while the religious metaphor may be too hard to ignore for some, there are surely other interpretations to be had. And that’s perhaps the most brilliant nature of the film—that there is a searing quality to it that leaves one endlessly thinking, positing, and reflecting. It is not schlock for schlok’s sake. It is anything but that. The film is unapologetic and unwieldly—for good reason. Viewers are exposed to perhaps some of the most shocking material seen in a while. Without revealing too much, prepare to have one’s jaw drop more than a few times, while also ceaselessly laughing at the cringe-inducing situational humor that even Ricky Gervais could not dream up. Darren Aronofsky has outdone himself with mother!, creating perhaps one of the most insane, beautiful, and cognitively stimulating films in years.
Catch mother! nationwide this Friday, September 15.