Allegory gone wrong
Listen, “Mother!” could have been a good movie. If only it had ended about half an hour earlier and, you know, hadn’t been directed by Darren Aronofsky, and had got rid of all the over-the-top symbolism (especially in the ending), then maybe the central relationship between the characters of Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem could have been very profound.
For the first hour and half of “Mother!” I thought the movie was only about the one-sided relationship: closely following a woman who is being subtly manipulated by her partner. Following Lawrence so closely amplifies the small moments in the relationship that lead to larger manipulation and emotional abuse. I still think that if the movie had focused on this one relationship and Lawrence’s subjectivity, it could have been great.
But that was not Aronofsky’s goal. He cast his girlfriend, Lawrence, to play Mother Nature and the rest of the cast to be excessive allegorical representations of the Bible and U.S. militarism. Ugh. If you don’t catch on to the allegories, the last 30 minutes feel like a chaotic mistake. If you do, it feels like unnecessary hit-you-over-the-head garbage.
Not to mention, in Aronofsky’s mad race to shock audiences and trigger them into having to leave the theater, he managed to emotionally and physically abuse Lawrence. Yes, Lawrence knew that this role would call for a grueling, dark emotional performance. Did she sign up for Aronofsky filming her having a panic attack that tore her diaphragm? Probably not.
Furthermore, this movie is really white. Like, really, really white. And it’s not just the cast. Let’s go along with this environmentalist allegory for a moment. Why in the world would you cast Lawrence to play Mother Nature? I have a hard time believing Lawrence, who “bragged about defiling sacred Hawaiian stones,” could represent nature.
Not to mention, Aronofsky hopes the movie will shock us into seeing the horror humanity is wreaking on the planet. (Ugh.) Which humanity is he talking about? White environmentalism often falls into this trap of blaming humans as a species for destroying the planet when, in reality, it’s white people and capitalism that’s responsible.
Verdict: “Mother!” tries to be all encompassing in matters director Aronofsky does not understand and for that it falls short and combusts.
Reach writer Victoria Naylor at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @victoriaGnaylor
A psychological taunter unlike anything being made right now
“Mother!” is the most hated movie of the year. It earned an “F” grade on CinemaScore, got terrible box office, and even prompted legendary film critic Rex Reed to call it the “worst movie of the century.”
These reactions are understandable. “Mother!” is so comprehensively allegorical, it borders on pretentious. It’s so violent, it barely skirts being categorized as a particularly heinous exercise in masturbatory filmmaking.
But as unbearable as it often is to sit through, “Mother!” is ambitious and unprovocative. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s the sort of increasingly rare type of movie-making so thematically loaded, it’d almost be impolite not to be complimented that the filmmaker behind it, Darren Aronofsky (“Requiem for a Dream,” “Black Swan”), who designed a feature to so ruthlessly test us.
For all the emotional, psychological, and physical abominations dispersed throughout “Mother!,” I was nonetheless enthralled by it. I was struck by Aronofsky’s meticulously mapped-out maze of metaphors, and was impressed by the fearlessness of leads Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, and Michelle Pfeiffer.
But especially remarkable is how easily one’s interpretation of “Mother!” can shift. The moment I walked out of the theater, for instance, I had decided that the movie was about society’s inherent misogyny.
I considered the home invaders to be representations of all the ways society has, for centuries, minimized the output of women, routinely assigning roles they dare not deviate from (the mother, the homemaker, the wife) all the while diminishing their ability to have control over their bodies (the battle against Planned Parenthood, the government’s interference with birth control) and making excuses for men when violence, either physical or sexual, is inflicted upon the opposite sex.
But so many other interpretations are possible. Some say, like Lawrence, that the movie is an allegory for the horrific treatment of Mother Earth, while others believe it’s a particularly gruesome metaphor for the creative process. And all more or less fit.
Even though the film could be dismissed for its many aggressions, its balls-to-the-wall ferocity is so uncommon (when was the last time an uninhibited arthouse movie made its way into 2,000-plus theaters?), it reminds me of other thematically rich — and polarizing — movies like Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” or David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive.” “Mother!” proves itself to be among the most memorable films of the year. And in a 2017 so smitten with blockbuster filmmaking, a movie as outré as this one is a nice break from pleasant but forgettable cinema-going.
Reach writer Blake Peterson at email@example.com. Twitter: @blakewpeterson