Mother!

I sometimes teach academic writing as part of my job and one of the things that has always bugged me in the students work is when they put two exclamation marks after a word. I mean seriously, surely nothing needs exclaiming that much. I’m adjusting my position on this now though because in the case of Darren Aronofsky’s new movie Mother! one exclamation mark is definitely not enough. This film is so unrelenting, so unafraid and so unapologetic that it makes Eraserhead look like Eastenders.
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This is the Aronofsky that made the brilliant but weird The Fountain then rather than the Aronofsky who made the brilliant and still a little weird but easily accessible Black Swan. (The less said about Noah the better even though there are comparisons to be drawn here as will become clear later.) If you’d look at one of the posters for Mother! you could be forgiven for thinking this is some kind of sister piece to Black Swan but metaphor lies much heavier on this story.

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On the face of it Mother! is initially a kind of passive aggressive home invasion thriller. There are supernatural undertones from the start but almost everything that takes place is possible, no matter how extreme people’s behaviour becomes. It is both real and surreal. Jennifer Lawrence is living with her husband Javier Bardem in a house that he owns but she has renovated following a fire. Everything is pretty idyllic until some uninvited guests in the shape of Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer arrive bringing with them an incredible sense of entitlement. This sets in motion a series of events that by the end has lead to domestic carnage.

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There is no doubt that some viewers will find Mother! hard work. Much has been written on this already and rather than backing away from this the marketing has embraced it. Another of the posters quotes a line from a review that delicately proclaims that ‘some people are going to f@#ing hate this movie’. 

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Love it or f@#ing hate it though you cannot deny that this film is a genuine piece of art and one that could only exist in the medium of film. Like a lot of art some will connect with it and others won’t and that is fine. You might not get Rothko or Pollock but that doesn’t make them self indulgent hacks who should stick to painting still life. So it is that to fail to appreciate Mother! should not be to condemn it. Without Lawrence and Aronofsky’s names attached there is no way this would have made it into the multiplexes but there it is playing in Odeons and Cineworlds up and down the country and everyone involved, including Paramount Pictures the major studio behind it, deserves credit for getting it out there. This is not complacent or compromised film making, it is not attempting to play to the widest market and it won’t have been crafted by repeated test screenings. It is the result of creative vision and for this reason alone it deserves to be celebrated whether you can go with it or not.

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I’m firmly on the side that went with it. By my mind Mother! should be also be lauded for its writing, its central performance, its direction and its shot composition. It is an endlessly fascinating film that is brilliant in the way it builds from the ordinary to the totally extraordinary. Most importantly it makes you think and many other Hollywood features can genuinely honestly boast that?

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It you want to be left to process those thoughts for yourself then I suggest you stop reading here but if you want to know how I read it then stick with me. (In the whole book verses film argument, what can be better than a movie you have to read?)

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Okay, so Javier Bardem is God. Early on it looks like we might be looking at a parable about preservation of the environment, Lawrence being ‘Mother’ Earth, or it could be that we are witnessing some analogy about the needs of every parent to protect their children from the ravages of life. Indeed, elements of this are still there. By the end though it is clear that what we are dealing with here is religious allegory. If Bardem is the patriarchal deity, Harris and Pfeiffer are the Adam and Eve figures, turning up and treating the Garden of Eden like they own the place, and we have our Cain and our Abel too. Soon this little family expands and becomes driven by desire and sanctimonious grief when they can’t have everything they believe they deserve. The movie is not kind in what it has to say about Human Beings when we are thrown into this mix in large numbers but be fair, considering all the things our species has done in the name of religion, we had it coming. 

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Interestingly the one figure it is not so easy to place in this analogy is Jennifer Lawrence. She may indeed be Mother Nature, she might be The Holy Sprit, she might be Mary or she might be a benevolent, unsullied faithful working hard to preserve what is good. Either way she is a victim, a sacrifice and a pawn and her God does not show her respect or unselfish compassion. To say too much more would really give the game away but this is not a film to be taken literally. To try would certainly lead to confusion and disappointment. Of course everyone has had a go at religious symbolism from C.S Lewis to The Simpsons but I feel that in presenting an arrogant and distant deity who may be both a genuine and a false idol Aronofsky is doing something, if not new, then different.

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Mother! is impressive and stands as a great example of that very rare thing; a big budget, avant garde studio film. Some people won’t like it, most people won’t see it but actually we need more of this kind of stuff so I hope more people make it.

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The Ripley Factor:
The film has a female lead who is presented very much as a real woman and is not objectified in any way so that is something else the film has going for it. However the question as to whether she is there purely to service or define a man is a trickier one to tackle. In the end I think that the movie is saying that this is the purpose of all of humanity in relation to their god so it ceases to be a gender issue.

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Is this one for the kids?
Mother! is one of only nine mainstream releases to get an 18 certificate this year so no. Be warned it is quite shocking in places.

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