“Do you get it?!”
-American treasure, the well-groomed Jay Bauman
I despise this movie, and it’s not because it’s vehemently anti-Catholic and misanthropic.
No, I hate this movie because it’s terrible.
Finishing the movie, I perused the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, reading positive and negative alike. The common themes from the positive were: “bold”, “thought provoking”, and “engrossing”. The common themes from the negative were: “poor plot”, “ugly”, and “misogynistic”.
I think the positive reviews are hilariously wrong, and the negative reviews are a bit misguided.
In storytelling there is always a battle between the subtext and the text itself, that is, between the “meaning”, “point”, or theme against the story itself. The fun of a movie with rich subtext is digging through the text to uncover meaning. mother! is nothing but subtext. There is no text on top. It’s just a series of images and symbols to interpret. Even the characters are mere symbols (God, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, etc.). That’s probably the primary reason the movie received an F Cinemascore. There’s no story for normal audiences to latch onto. Instead, they get a steady stream of metaphors and a final thirty minutes of blood and guts untied to anything an audience will care about.
Watching this at the tail end of my Bergman quest (at this writing, having seen 37 of the 39 on the Criterion set) is interesting. Bergman’s movies are often full of symbols and imagery, but they are tied to characters that feel exceedingly real in stories that make literal sense.
Darren Aronofsky, instead, decided to make a movie where nothing made any literal sense. And the movie just seems to create holes all over the place. Abel dies, and a couple of hours later there’s a wake in the house. Mother gets pregnant, and it feels like she reaches full term in an afternoon (“It moved!” she cries in the ninth month as though she’s missed the past four to five months of pregnancy). God finishes the New Testament right then. Mother reads it, but publisher has already read it?
I often say that it’s the audience’s responsibility to have a second side of a conversation with filmmakers. To figure out what the filmmakers are trying to do and say and engage with them on the filmmaker’s chosen level, not the audience’s preferred level.
So, okay. Aronofsky doesn’t want to tell a literal story. He wants to make some kind of metaphorical and experimental film. Does it work?
Nope. Not in the least. So, we don’t have characters. We just have a series of symbols that walk and talk. Is it difficult to discern what they mean? No. It’s incredibly simple. It’s obvious from the moment they walk onto the screen. Does the audience need to try at all to figure out what Aronofsky is saying? No, it’s there on screen without any effort. Hey! It’s Adam and Eve! Hey! It’s Cain and Abel! Hey! It’s the flood! Hey! It’s the Bible! Hey! It’s religion! Hey! It’s humanity polluting the planet!
I’ve never been the biggest fan of Aronofsky. I once called him a crazy person who can barely shoot a scene. However, he does have a certain verve and daring which is nice. People seem to confuse daring with talent, though. Just because a movie is daring doesn’t mean that it succeeds. I don’t even think performances are any good.
Jennifer Lawrence spends half the movie as a passive naif and the other half screaming. Javier Bardem is so disassociated from the action at hand that he never actually builds a character (not like Aronofsky wrote him a character to begin with). None of the other characters are around enough to actually form a feeling at all. The closest is Ed Harris as Adam…I mean Man, but he’s one-note.
The movie’s also really dark. Not tonally (well, I guess it is), but visually. It gets really hard to see what’s actually happening on screen.
I found literally nothing to recommend about the film. There’s no story because the movie’s all metaphor. The metaphor is thin, obvious, and uninteresting. The final act is unmoored from any emotion so the shock is threadbare. It’s poorly acted. It’s ugly to look at. It’s aggressive in its simplistic nature.
Netflix Rating: 1/5
Quality Rating: 0/4
3 thoughts on “mother!”
I remember liking “Pi,” though I don’t remember much else about it. And I kind of hated “The Fountain,” for all the reasons you outline here.
The Fountain I’m kind of on the fence about. There is a story, the problem is that it’s repeated, almost verbatim, three times. Every beat gets done three times. And the ending is just on the right side of crazy for me. But yeah, it doesn’t hold together very well.
mother! is a whole new level of awfulness, though.