Sunday, September 24, 2017


I probably should wait a few days before writing this, as this is a movie that will be waking me up in the middle of the night for months as my subconscious unravels the deeper layers of imagery and meaning.  It’s a Rorschach Test of a movie that allows different people looking at it from different perspectives to see different things.  If you’re walking in here expecting the haunted house story the trailer wanted to feed you, you are going to be sorely disappointed.  If you walk in with zero expectations and allow the movie to teach you its rules as it goes, you might find one of the most meaningful cinematic experiences you’ve ever encountered.  When it finished, Jennifer and I sat in rapt silence, wrapping our heads around what we had just seen, interpreting it the way one might look at an abstract painting or sculpture.  A guy in the back of the theater just shouted “that’s bullshit!” and went on with his day.

You get from it what you take into it I suppose.

So, I’m going to talk about the movie, I promise, and I am going to talk about what I got from the film itself.  I have to say, what I pulled from the film is apparently not what was intended by Darren Aronofsky, which you can find elsewhere if you want to read (I’m not going to do your Googling for you).  There are other opinions as well, but I will tell you up front: this movie is not for everyone.  It is often surreal, it is at times brutal, there are horrific moments that though not overtly gory are remarkably tense and there’s a direct implication of one of the most devastatingly awful things I have ever seen in a film.  Though the film follows it’s own logic, there are things that don’t quite make sense when you pull them out of the movie and look at them in the real world.  It is less a narrative than an allegory.

I am not trying to imply that someone who liked it is smarter than someone who didn’t, or that anyone who didn’t like it just didn’t “get it.”  (Though I have no doubt those people are out there.)  This movie does not give a damn whether you like it or not, and you could flow completely with the story elements and the allegory and still hate how it made you feel and therefore the movie.  As Jennifer and I wandered slightly zombie-like through a store afterward, I made the statement, “there are a lot of men who are going to hate that movie, and maybe not know why they hated it.”  This movie is black licorice: you hate it or you love it, but if you love it, it opens your world to absinthe.  See the odd metaphor I used there?  Get used to it before you go see “Mother!” 

So, now that I am 500 words in and still haven’t actually discussed the movie itself, I suppose I should.  Spoiler warning, but honestly, I’m not sure its necessary.  This movie is far more than its plot points, as atmosphere, performance, and inference are every bit as important to the experience as its relatively simple story.  The framework for the movie is a young woman, played by Jennifer Lawrence in a standout performance among standout performances, married to an older poet, played with dripping condescension by Javier Bardem.  The poet has been unable to write for some time, so he and his wife have settled into his former home which was previously destroyed by fire.  She is rebuilding the house herself while he sits in his study, not writing, but entranced by a strange gem that he later mentions was found in the rubble of the house after the fire.  One evening, there is a knock at the door, and Ed Harris arrives; a man who thought the house was actually a bed and breakfast.  Bardem’s poet insists Harris stay the night, despite Jennifer Lawrence’s misgivings, and this all gives way to a sequence of events that will start with more unexpected guests, and then wind through murder, abandonment, hero worship, riots, war, and an apocalyptic reset of the entire world they inhabit.   

Got that?  Yeah, exactly.

So, here’s what I got from the film, and promise you your results may vary if you work up the courage to see the movie.  To me, Lawrence represented the role women play in 10,000 years of human society.  She nurtures, she preserves, she restores, she becomes a mother.  She provides advice, she helps celebrate victories, she tries to help us minimize our defeats.

Everyone else in the film are the assholes who mistreat her for it.  Be it the husband who takes what she has done for granted, and can’t understand why she’s upset when he does not consult her, or did not give her the first reading of his completed work despite all her support, or who is so caught up in the adulation of others he doesn’t care to notice how much she has done to facilitate what he has created, that indeed he would be nowhere without her.  Or maybe it’s the older woman (played by Michelle Pfeiffer), who is ready to discount her experience and encourage her to rely only on her sexuality to get the attention of the man in her life.  To stay self-medicated and stop trying to build something for herself, or participate in the creative process.  How about the man who arrives, in her house, and insists she should hook up with him.  And when she doesn’t want to, when she doesn’t share her number, calls her an “arrogant cunt” and dismisses her like trash.  Or perhaps it’s the people who are perfectly happy to destroy what she has built as if it has no value because it came from a woman, and dismiss her telling them that a particular piece of architecture is not finished and will not hold.  And of course it is the society represented by the mob that will take her newborn and literally cannibalize it because they need to consume anything she has made, and then beat her savagely when she tries to resist them and maintain her agency.

Over and over I saw the allegorical examination of how society “mansplains” over women experts, or takes for granted that a women has to be sexual when we demand it, and a mother when we demand it, and her agency be damned, she should be more appreciative that she even HAS a man to take care of her.  The Poet simply baffled that she wouldn’t want to see his wishes come true at the expense of all she has done, because he has never noticed her actual struggle to make it all so. 
Aronofsky and crew have called 10,000 years of Patriarchy to task in this film, and that’s the type of message and delivery that’s going to make a thousand Dudebros go, “that’s bullshit!” and not want to see themselves in the Bardem character, or as one of the mass of people who rely on her, yet is happy to use up and marginalize the women of our society.  They may not even be consciously aware of why they feel indicted, but it will make them dismiss the film.  That won't be why everyone who dislikes it dislikes it, but more than I few I wager.

There are horror elements and suspense in this film.  In a country where one out of every five women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, half of those before the age of 18; where women are subjected to verbal abuse or ignored in work settings be benefit of their gender; where women can spend 20 years raising children, managing a budget, keeping a household going…and be dismissed as “just a housewife” and have nothing to put on a resume when they have decided to get out of their empty nest and into the world; where three women are murdered EVERY DAY in the US, and one of those three will be murdered by someone with whom they trusted enough to be intimate.  Hell yes there are horror elements in this film, because that is all horrific.  And that’s not even looking at other countries where women are not allowed to read, or after being told they must submit to a man’s will are then considered “unclean” and subject to being killed by their family to uphold “honor.”  Yes a movie illustrating what the world does to women is a horror movie, because how else do you tell it?

Yeah dude, I know.  YOU aren’t a rapist.  YOU don’t beat your partner.  YOU  don’t kill women who reject you in a bar.  But is your first thought when you hear about a rape, “well what was she wearing?” or “well what was she doing there?”  Do you notice how much more often men interrupt women during conversation than they do other men?  Or how much more willing men are to encroach on personal space of a woman versus another man?  You ever tell that joke about “what do you tell a women with two black eyes?  Nothing, she obviously didn’t listen the first two times.”  Ha ha, funny.  Hell, I’ve told that joke myself because it’s just a joke.

Until it isn’t.

Anyway, getting back to “Mother!” Again, other people got other things from it, and there are certainly plenty of metaphorical elements to support some of the “Mother = Earth, Poet = God, the Man and Woman = Adam and Eve” interpretations I see out there. Regardless, the performances from everyone involved are nuanced and stunning.  The photography is claustrophobic and breathtaking.  The emotions are discomforting and horrifying.  I love this film, my wife loved this film; most people are going to hate it,  either for what it says to them, or what they don’t want to hear from it, or because it does not deliver a “normal” experience.  It most certainly, regardless of your interpretation, does not do that.

I say judge for yourself, but if you’re not up for challenging cinema, you may want to let this one go by.  “Mother!” is not for the standard audience, and certainly not for the timid.

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