In theaters now!
aka DAY 6
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Written by Darren Aronofsky
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Brian Gleeson, Domhnall Gleeson, Jovan Adepo, Amanda Chiu, Patricia Summersett, Eric Davis, Raphael Grosz-Harvey, Emily Hampshire, Abraham Aronofsky, Luis Oliva, Stephanie Ng Wan, Chris Gartin, Stephen McHattie, Ambrosio De Luca, Gregg Bello, Arthur Holden, Henry Wai Ciu Kwok, Alex Bisping, Koumba Ball, Robert Higden, Elizabeth Neale, Kristen Wiig, Scott Humphrey, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Anton Koval, Carolyn Fe, Anana Rydvald, Cristina Rosato, Pierre Simpson, Mylène Savoie, Gitz Crazyboy, Shaun O’Hagan, Sabrina Campilii, Stanley B. Herman, Mizinga Mwinga, Genti Bejko, Andreas Apergis, Julianne Jain, Julien Irwin Dupuy, Bronwen Mantel, Amanda Warren, Mason Franklin, Laurence Leboeuf, Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse
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When laid on too thickly, people just don’t like metaphor. I guess we live in a different age as I grew up being entertained, touched, and moved the most through allegories featuring characters that represent abstract concepts, thoughts, feelings, and even whole groups of people. But people just don’t seem to understand or like that type of story anymore, and it’s kind of sad. I can blame the usual things—iPhones, video games, MTV, where options are a plenty to stimulate at a strobe like rate. But in the end, I think as a populace, we all have grown a bit more literal and the death of the metaphor seems to be happening at an advanced stage. For example, take Darren Aronofsky’s most recent film, a warped adaptation of THE GIVING TREE he has entitled mother! (all lower case letters and an exclamation point for dramatic effect—as is the motivation for a lot of things in this film).
Jennifer Lawrence plays Mother (also referred to as Her, Goddess, Whore, Cunt, and various other names throughout the movie—I’ll refer to Lawrence as Her through the rest of the review, even though it risks making things complicated), the lead character in a film where no one has a name. Her’s husband Him (Javier Bardem) is elder to her by many, many years (not unlike the relationship Lawrence has with the director himself), is a writer who is stuck in a rut and hasn’t written a word since their marriage. While her husband stares at a blank page, pen in hand, she busies herself by renovating the house, which was once burned down to the ground long before Him met Her. One night, a man (Ed Harris) arrives on their front porch and Him invites the man into their home even though he is a stranger. Soon after, the man’s wife (Michelle Pfeifer) arrives and more guests start arriving, perplexing Her as to how all of these people have found their house in the middle of nowhere. After a rather ugly skirmish with the guests’ sons, Him is inspired to write for the first time (he’s also inspired to have sex with Her for the first time in ages). Waking the next morning, Her instantly realizes she is pregnant and Him is overcome with ideas that seem to just flow onto the page. There are exponential leaps in time through the rest of the film which gets more metaphorical, and more obtuse by the second until the gory, dramatic climax which begins with the publication of Him’s words, then moves to the birth of Her’s baby, and ends with everything literally going to hell .
I’m a fan of metaphor. I think it can be a powerful tool for a storyteller. The problem is that you can’t lay your metaphor on so thick that it overwhelms other important elements of storytelling. In this case, character is completely tossed aside and people simply act as symbols in mother! making it extremely hard to give a shit about any of them. Sure, since the camera rarely leaves Jennifer Lawrence’s character, we see the whole story through her eyes, but other than a tendency to have panic attacks and an objection to having strangers in her home, Lawrence is a blank slate, representing woman or women in general. In this film, the actors serve a function to the story, as all characters do, but in this sense, that function presides over any distinguishing characteristics. So we have Him as God the creator walking around accepting all of these people into his home/the Earth, that mother/Mother Earth (later Mary Magdalene) has worked so hard to create and make homey. Harris is Adam with Pfeifer playing a seductive Eve who enter Mother Earth’s garden/home and rudely make themselves at home. Then Harris’ two sons show up representing Cain and Abel, with one murdering the other, introducing sin into the home as Pfeifer and Harris have sultry sex in Lawrence’s guest bedroom in front of her. If you think things are going to mellow out with the biblical allegory, you’re wrong because time begins to speed, inundating us with a whirlwind of horrors as the piece of writing Him/God creates becomes a worldwide phenomenon, with everyone seeing something different and special in the words/the Bible. Soon these words get misconstrued, and mother/now full on Mary, gives birth to a beautiful child. But we all know what happens to the son of God and that’s where this film gets gory and almost unfollowable. As characters are simply sifting through crowds and screaming for the last twenty minutes of the film.
There is one extremely shocking moment in the film involving the baby that is going to horrify anyone with a soul. There are also graphic beatings at the hands of the rioting worshippers who descend onto the house, some of which is inflicted on Lawrence herself which was hard to watch as well. But these shocking moments are overshadowed by all of the metaphor being slogged around sloppily. There’s a way to make characters represent something yet still retain their unique character and retaining their humanity. Aronofsky fails at that here. In THE KING OF COMEDY, Robert DeNiro can represent aspirations for superstardom and how that can be warped when desperation sets in. Still, Rupert Pupkin remains one of DeNiro and Scorcese’s most memorable characters because of the humanity they put into the role. In MOBY DICK, the whale can represent that unattainable goal. But through Melville’s description, the whale in that book has more actual character than those in mother!
In the end, mother! feels like a piece made by a rebellious teenager in a Catholic school in order to shock his nun’s habit wearing teacher. It does have some moments that will sear themselves into your brain, but for the most part, the film left me with a feeling as if Aronofsky tried way too hard to let us know how smart he is and forgot to remember to make the whole thing entertaining. It tries to borrow elements of ROSEMARY’S BABY, but forgets to make us care. It feels like a half-baked script that forgot to add the essential character to help us to relate to what is going on. Maybe it’s the inundation of Lawrence into the public consciousness recently that makes this film emotionally inpenetrable. Maybe it’s because Aronofsky follows her around every second of the film like a jealous boyfriend afraid to let her out of his sight. Maybe it’s because the metaphor was laid on so thick and clumsily that nothing else gets through. Or maybe it’s all of that that makes mother! something worth skipping if you’re looking for the mature and solid horror film it tries so desperately to be.