Mother! A Pretentious Danse Macabre
Mother! (2017), staring Jennifer Lawrence as the titular character and Javier Bardem as her husband, Him, is writer/director Darren Aronofsky’s nihilistic allegory for Biblical creation and the rape of nature. Though marketed as a psychological thriller, Aronofsky told Vanity Fair after the Toronto International Film Festival the film is “about how it must feel to be Mother Nature.” It was partially inspired by Shel Silverstein’s picture book The Giving Tree. No, really.
The story itself isn’t very interesting. A writer lives with his much younger wife in an old octagonal farm house on the prairie. Uninvited house guests interrupt their solitude. Their transgressions worsen, climaxing in a murder that leaves a permanent, bloody scar in the floor. Things settle down again after Mother becomes pregnant, but then crescendo into an orgy of violence and depravity as the writer’s fans take over the house and begin worshiping him.
It’s difficult to say for what audience Mother! was intended. People who enjoy long, boring interludes punctuated by moments of extreme violence? It’s not for the squeamish or easily triggered, but it’s not a work of genius either. For my part, it was painful to see talented actors and actresses, including Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, wasted on this pretentious monstrosity.
Throughout the film, and especially in the final act, Mother is marginalized, tormented, brutalized, and violated. At one point, her clothes are torn open and she is repeatedly punched in the face. Finally, her heart is torn from her burnt chest. I think it’s a little bizarre that A-list actress Jennifer Lawrence, who prides herself on playing strong female leads and on being a role model for young women, would agree to star in her boyfriend’s deranged snuff film.
I’m not going to call her a hypocrite, but after reading her explanation in The Telegraph, all I could think was, wow, this person is really dumb. Aronofsky compounds that feeling when he explains that he wrote the script’s first draft in five days, and that it stemmed from his frustration at not being able to do anything about “living on this planet and sort of seeing what’s happening around us.” Oh brother. Lawrence and Aronofsky’s combined net worth is $145 million. They’re powerless to help the planet? Try planting a tree or picking up some trash on the sidewalk.
The pernicious belief that the earth would be better off without human beings is fashionable among radical environmentalists, and illustrated in Mother! by Mother’s constant pleading and begging Him to get rid of their annoying house guests and return to their solitude. Yet without humanity, there is no theater, no movie, no audience, and no point to be made. As Nietzsche says in his essay On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense, “…this intellect has no additional mission which would lead it beyond human life.”
I bring this up simply to illustrate that what we’re seeing on screen is Darren Aronofsky’s own self-defeating revulsion and disgust at humanity, not some clever point about how nature is harmonious without human beings. Aronofsky has clearly cast Javier Bardem not as God the Father but as himself–the creator of this film and someone who harbors deep resentment toward humanity.
Audiences have strongly reacted to this film. I saw one couple leave during the infanticide scene, but overall I found it incredibly boring. If I wasn’t writing a review, I probably would have walked out of the theater as well. When Mother wakes up the morning after having sex and declares “I’m pregnant,” someone in the audience actually started laughing. I had a hard time staying awake until the end.
When Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Fando y Lis premiered at the 1968 Acapulco Film Festival, a riot broke out and the director’s car was pelted with rocks. It was banned by the Mexican government for its sacrilegious depiction of Catholic ritual. Like Fando y Lis, Mother! also features surreal scenes, cannibalism, and a female protagonist being brutalized by a frenzied mob. Will Mother! have as much impact in today’s America? Or will audiences simply react with revulsion to its grotesque Grand Guignol and miss the religious symbolism altogether?
Overall, there’s not much positive to be taken away from this film, although I did appreciate the setting. Everything had a raw, earthy look and feel. Real texture. I love when the characters literally dig into it and organic wounds open up as though the house itself is alive. Once again, style trumps substance in 2017.