Saturday, December 09, 2017

'Mother!' Is a Messed-Up Metaphor

Darren Aronofsky is known for his surreal, controversial psychological films.  With the exception of Noah – which is garbage – I generally found his body of work fascinating.  I didn’t necessarily fully “enjoy” his films, in a typical manner of speaking, because they are confusing, taxing, and disturbing (especially the highly depressing Requiem for a Dream).  But there’s always this riveting, provocative quality to them that makes them worth watching at least once.

With the polarizing reception of his latest opus mother!, I was only made more intrigued of watching it.  And it’s the most unrestrained Aronofsky film I’ve ever seen.

The story is exclusively set in a house in the countryside, surrounded by woods.  In it lives a married couple.  The young wife, identified in the credits as “mother” (Jennifer Lawrence), is deeply in love with his husband, and spends her days serving him and renovating their house.  The much older husband, identified in the credits as “Him” (Javier Bardem), is a renowned poet.  He’s so fixated on making his next successful composition that he constantly disregards his wife’s affections.  One day, uninvited, intrusive guests start showing up one after another at their front door.  Mother is dismayed and doesn’t want them to stay in the house.  On the other hand, Him is happy to receive and open their house to them.  And since this is an Aronofsky film, a couple of weird and unsettling stuff happen next.
It’s very much obvious that mother! is intended to be allegorical.  It explores a lot of themes, and it can be interpreted in several ways.  Some things its metaphors covered are: the obsession of artists to create art and be celebrated as a result; misogyny against women; the abuse and exploitation of Mother Nature; the first few chapters of the book of Genesis; Christ’s birth and death; the power of words, and how their meanings can be distorted; the evil that stems out of radical religion and ideology; and many, many more.  It’s as if Aronofsky went to vent out his frustrations about himself, God or the Christian worldview, and the current state of society.

Among all the film’s subtexts, human depravity is what I feel it’s most effectively illustrating – albeit maybe unintentionally.  The film shows how humans are invasive, obnoxious, inconsiderate, selfish, greedy, and outright wicked.  At the same time, they are desperate to find meaning amid the evilness of their nature, and in their pursuit of this, they become zealous for the wrong reasons and pervert the Word of God of its intended meaning – twisting it to fit their innate preference for darkness.  In relation to this, they project for themselves a wrong perception of who God is.  This is the case with Him’s fans.  And this is also the case with Aronofsky’s notion about God, as depicted by Javier Bardem’s Him – a narcissistic Creator who is a slave to his sick obsession to create, a Creator who only loves His creation because he’s addicted to their adoration.  It’s a blasphemous picture of God – completely far from how God revealed Himself through Scriptures.  And, again, the misconception of the Biblical God is an off-shoot of human depravity.
Anyway, people are split on mother!.  It’s either praised or hated.  Others think it’s profound, while others think it’s pretentious.  Me?  I thought it was hilarious.  Seriously.  Treating it like it was a dark comedy was the only way its absurdly fantastical turns and its messed-up metaphorical nature worked for me.  The plot – if what it has can be called a “plot” – is chaotic and disturbing.  In the third act particularly, it gets gory and frenzied.  But sometimes, the intricate camera work and the great acting make it absorbing despite the off-putting elements of the narrative.  Still, for me, learning to laugh off all of its madness is the only way to go through this peculiar, heavy film with ease, in order to have the chance of critically examining whatever insights it has to offer.

Still, in the end, I honestly don’t know yet if I like mother! or not.  It may take another viewing to be sure, though I’m not keen of doing so soon.

But the best thing I can say about this film is that it has an original vision and it’s been realized.  Now, the quality of that vision is still up for contention, but the fact remains that an original vision is realized in this film.  It makes a wild, wide swing.  Regardless of whether it hits or misses the target, at least it was bold enough to opt for a go-for-broke move.

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