Darron Aronofsky’s new film “Mother!” looks to be a re-imagining, perhaps, of “Rosemary’s Baby” from its trailers. After Aronofsky films like “Black Swan,” “The Wrestler” and “Noah,” you come out of this one feeling slightly bilious—partially from Matthew Libatique’s hand-held close-up camera work—and partially because the film, (allegorical though it may be), just leaves you saying, “What the hell just happened here?”
For the first one-half to two-thirds of the film we have a normal story of a couple living in a remote house in the woods (Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence). He is a poet who has writers’ block and she is his loving, much younger and very supportive wife. [They don’t have names in the film, so I’ll simply refer to them by the actor’s names.]
As a would-be writer myself (30 books, to date),the depiction of how the publishing industry works was ludicrous, but it gives us a chance to see how Lawrence feels that she is not the Most Important Person in Bardem’s life, as he shows her his (finally, belatedly) completed manuscript, she cries and calls it beautiful. Immediately the phone rings and we learn that Bardem’s agent in New York (weirdly enough, played by SNL’s Kristen Wiiig) has already seen the manuscript. [Uh—-okay, folks. Not the way REAL publishing works, but let’s move on. And good luck on living on a poet’s income; better he should write horror novels or screenplays, like this film appeared to be from the trailers.]
I want to warn anyone reading this that there will be potential spoilers in my remarks, so look elsewhere if you don’t want to know some specific details about the film. However, to quote the critic in “Time” magazine, “It tries so desperately to be crazy and disturbing that all we can see is the effort made and the money spent.” That observation is not mine and seems a bit harsh, but my remark to a fellow critic as I left the theater was, “This one will not do well at the box office once word gets out.” So, a few details are here, but, no, I won’t give you the entire plot, blow-by-blow, (one of my biggest beefs about those who review my short story collections.)
So, what “word” am I suggesting will get out?
The word that the film makes minimal sense while trying to comment on a host of current topics as varied as the chaos in the world where refugees from any of a myriad list of countries are fleeing for their lives (Syria, almost anywhere in Africa, Afghanistan, et. al.), how we are destroying the Earth (Mother Earth—get it?), how artists both need fans, but also resent the rabid ones who won’t leave them alone, and egoism as demonstrated by those artists, etc.
True film buffs will see “Mother!” and be glad to have seen Aronofsky’s latest film. Word out of TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) was that people came out of the viewing either loving it or hating it, but definitely talking about it. I heard that, at one film festival screening (Cannes, I think) it was both booed and received a 5-minute standing ovation, so opinions come down on both sides of the issue.
IMHO, I don’t think the average couple who want a night out on the town without the kids will like it. They’d prefer a story that made sense. This one does not. It reminded me of Terrance Malick’s “Tree of Life” in that there was a story present that could have been told on a “normal” plane, but things quickly spiraled out of control on that front. “Tree of Life” went wild with great cinematic images, but the story suffered a quick death.
Don’t look for too much of that Malick touch here. The hand-held, close-up camerawork is all zoom-y and jerky. I found it really annoying on the big screen. I feel I have seen every pore on Jennifer Lawrence’s face. I think that is probably the movie’s strength: Jennifer Lawrence in her prime.
The sound is also quite good, and some of the early spooky shots in the old basement made me think of the film “They Come At Night” earlier this year in 2 respects: the shadowy spooky lighting and the fact that nobody ever really came at night and patrons were quite upset at being suckered in by the title and the trailer that seemed to portray a standard horror story. [I hope this isn’t the second instance of misleading advertising in film trailers this season, in the fans’ opinion(s).]
As for the secret room in the basement that is never properly explained or the bloody hole in the floor that I was sure was going to give way when someone walked over it, or the constant influx of strangers whom husband Bardem will not get rid of: not as enchanting or as well-explained.
Bardem ultimately becomes a religious figure (Satan? The Devil?) and Worst Husband & Father Ever.
The story makes sense for a while, but ultimately: “things fall apart, the center cannot hold.”
At first, we have the couple in the woods ( I was reminded of the house used one season on “American Horror Story”) with the wife trying to (literally) re-build the house to please her husband, because, (we learn in an aside), it was his childhood home. We are also told that a fire destroyed it and killed his mother. All Javier has left from the wreckage is a precious piece of glass that he keeps on display on a pedestal. It gets broken, of course, but nevermind about that right now.
After we woozily (those close-up shots and hand-held photography) watch Jennifer run to the bathroom to periodically bolt glasses of a yellow liquid that she mixes on multiple occasions, I wanted to know what it was she was drinking. The film never said. I read (elsewhere) that it was some kind of migraine medication. It would have been nice to have known that, somehow, from the dialogue. I don’t have migraines, have never heard of a yellow powder that people take for it, and was trying to figure out if Lawrence was a closet drug addict or trying to abort an unwanted pregnancy, since there is a conversation in the film where random guest Michelle Pfeiffer tells Jennifer that she (Michelle) can tell that Jennifer doesn’t want kids.
First guest to disrupt the couple’s solitude is Ed Harris, who tells Javier that he is an orthopedic surgeon at the hospital in town and suggests that he was told this was a bed and breakfast where he could stay. Once he finds out that Bardem is the famous poet Harris admires, Harris is invited to stay at their house by Javier as long as he likes. This disturbs Jennifer as she was not consulted.
Then, Ed’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up. Later, his two warring sons (real-life brothers Brian Gleeson and Donheel Gleeson) arrive and a violent fight breaks out about their father’s imminent demise and the money he will leave. [We have learned that old Ed is coughing up a lung because he is terminally ill.]
Let’s examine some of the themes/allegories that Aronofsky has laid out for us, or why I feel they are there. What is my support for my interpretation, in other words? When it comes to the Mother Nature reading, in addition to the film’s title, we need only pay attention when Jennifer says she wants to make the house “a Paradise” for her husband. And there is this line: “I gave you everything. You gave it all away.” Then, of course, there are the lines of the song that plays over the credits: “It’s The End of the World As We Know It, it ended when your love left me.”
Believe me, you won’t miss this. Gifts brought to the child born under chaotic circumstances. Preacher-like figures and small votive candles. Adoring worshippers. Small photos of the object of their adoration everywhere. And we all know what happened to the first son of God in The Good Book, so don’t look for a happy ending here.
“Vanity Fair”cited “the fevered insecurity of an artist who fears the attention of his public as much as he does their abandonment.” It is undeniably true that a writer or artist of any sort is dependent on an adoring public for both ego gratification and sales. Still, it’s taken to the limit here. Jennifer’s constant desire to have her husband make the unwanted guests go away made me think of a story she told tonight on Seth Meyer’s Late Show. She described being asked to pose for a selfie in a bar after a hard day on a shoot (and a few too many beers) and turning the young man down, whereupon he used the “f” word and went away mad. Not as mad as Jennifer, however, who describes dousing him and his luggage with beer because he wouldn’t leave her alone.
You get the feeling that the character Jennifer Lawrence portrays in “Mother!” would dearly love to give every character in the film except Bardem the old heave-ho, but nobody listens to her polite requests that they not sit on the still unmoored kitchen sink counter or simply get the hell out of her house. She is telling them what to do both politely and, ultimately, ragefully, just as Mother Nature has been warning us about weather crises to come for decades, but we just don’t listen. And, just like the 2 recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida within 4 days of one another while vast parts of the west are going up in flames, things are getting wildly out of hand now, because milder warnings given early on were completely ignored.
The film is crazy and disturbing and, in Lawrence’s words on television tonight, “horrifying” but it’s not your normal horror film with an ending that wraps things up for you, with or without a twist ending, so if you hated “They Come At Night” because you thought there was actually going to be something coming at night, you will probably think this film has done a bit of false advertising with its trailers, too.
Doesn’t mean you can’t watch it to try to decode the layers of meaning and enjoy Aronofsky’s skill as a writer/director, but I liked “The Wrestler.” It made sense from beginning to end.