MOTHER! Written and Directed by Darren Aronofsky; Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer; Rated R for disturbing violent content and behavior, and brief nudity; Running time 121 minutes; In theaters September 15.
Darren Aronofsky is known for creating films that are moody, dark, depressing and sometimes a bit depraved. All that taken into consideration, I don't think anyone was fully prepared for what he has unleashed upon the world with mother! In fact, it deeply divided our film critics, so they decided to get together and figure out just what this movie was about and if it is worth anyone's attention.
Andy: I have another name for this movie. Yes, it starts with mother! But it ends with a word you can’t say on television that Samuel L. Jackson likes. A lot. This is one of the most astoundingly ponderous and pretentious films I’ve seen in years.
Adam: You got that right. And what’s really funny with your saying that is that every other critic I was with said this film was pretentious as well. It’s mind numbingly boring and self indulgent.
Andy: I think Aronofsky can be hit or miss, and this is perhaps his biggest miss ever. It’s like he took the reactions to Noah, in which critics and audiences did not like his retelling of the story of the flood, and said, “Oh, you hated that? Great, well now I’m going to do it to THE ENTIRE BIBLE.” Even the title mother! is pretentious and offputting. It literally shouts at us with its exclamation mark. And then emphasizes its lower-case m so we know this is a Very Serious Important Move about Very Serious Things, like a college sophomore who decides their name shouldn’t be capitalized so they can stand out in the crowd and show off how self-effacing they are. This film is the textbook example of laying it on too thick, with a steaming side of heavy hands. And, astoundingly, at the same time, it is hella confusing for the first two-thirds of the film! As an audience member coming in, you’re left wondering exactly what is going on or what you’re supposed to be taking away from this.
Kelly: Confusing for just two-thirds? The whole movie was confusing. Despite that I enjoyed it. It was at times hauntingly beautiful. Aronofsky certainly has a great cinematic eye but there are too many layers to this film to unravel after just one viewing.
Creation is obviously a major theme. Creation of art and of life. Is one more important than the other, the film seems to ask?
I thought Jennifer Lawrence’s performance was incredible. And Michelle Pfeiffer, though ultimately underused, shone in her part.
I'm left still wondering about things unexplained, like the mixture mother kept adding to her water. A fertility drug?
Adam: The annoying thing is that overall, I really like Aronofsky, but this is just him at his worse and basically using the craft to masturbate in front of the audience. As Kelly said, nothing makes sense here. Yes, there are very obvious metaphors and subtext that underlies the plot, but they’re hidden too deep in what Aronofsky obviously perceives as brilliant writing to make the impact he is hoping to have. And when that point is finally brought to light, it’s surrounded by so much over-the-top spectacle, that no one really cares.
Andy: The themes are all over the place. Is this movie about the erasure of the divine feminine from Christianity? Is it about the lack of respect for women and the creative, nurturing force? Is this about the environment and Mother Earth / Gaia? Is this about the creative process and the relationship between artist and audience? Apparently the answer to all of these is yes. And no. To quote Janeane Garofalo in the cult classic Mystery Men, “You're not well-liked. You're abrasive and off-putting. You try and say pithy things, but your wit is a hindrance and so, therefore nothing is provocative.It’s just mixed metaphors.” When you take a classic, beautifully woven epic with multiple themes like Les Miserables or Anna Karenina or The Godfather, whether the medium is the page, the stage, or the screen, the skilled auteur will fully develop those themes and make them accessible at multiple levels. With mother!, Aronofsky doesn’t fully develop any of them, and so the film in trying to say everything, in fact, says nothing. Leaving even the most ardent lover of film confused is not a sign of brilliance. It is a sign of failure.
Adam: This whole film is a failure, but nowhere else moreso than the final act when everything comes crumbling down. Not only does all semblance of a coherent plot just get completely thrown out, but it finales with some of the most horrifying images ever put on film. Look, I’m by no means a prude, and I’m a huge fan of horror and gore movies, but mother! takes it all to a new level of depravity in its vain attempt to make a point. So the finale ends with a bloodbath, cannibalism, rape and literally ripping the heart out of someone just so we can say something about the state of celebrity worship and the way humans have been a caretaker of Mother Earth. Sorry, I’m not buying it. This was just an excuse to be brutal for brutality’s sake.
Kelly: Even I was disturbed at some of the final imagery, and usually I have no issues with violence depicted onscreen. And the ending was a runaway freight train that seemed to lose all sense of time and place.
Is the movie horror? Fantasy? Psychological thriller? It defies genre.
Andy: And where the film really strikes out is in its attempts to have a message of feminism, it mostly just ends up glorifying violence towards and erasure of women. I’m sorry, but you can’t be a feminist movie if you can’t even pass the Bechdel Test. It’s a fairly low bar, and they didn’t even manage to get over that. Even more creepy is the way the camera follows Jennifer Lawrence throughout the movie. Wearing an incredibly sheer nightgown and no underwear for much of the film, she is intentionally lit to repeatedly show off her nipples. The camera follows her from behind with more shots of her butt than a Michael Bay movie. (And can we point out that the movie would be 40 minutes shorter if it didn’t incessantly follow her movement throughout the house, padding an already ponderous picture?) And then in the final climax of the film, she is brutally attacked, her clothing ripped, exposing her bare breasts. . . in a rape scene. No. No. No. No. NO. It’s arguable that mother! wants to teach us something about the important place for women, but all we’re left with is a glorification of her erasure, abuse, and ultimate place as an adjunct to the man. And [spoiler alert, but IDGAF] at the end of the film, we also find out that her special, sacred role is ultimately replaceable, and she can be consumed in apocalyptic destruction and the ultimate in self-effacement and annihilation, and just as easily replaced by another woman. Nice job, Darren Aronofsky. You took a movie about women, put your girlfriend in it, and made it all about you-- the ultimate in white male “feminism.” And you bet those quotation marks are ironic.
Kelly: I didn't really interpret it as trying to be a feminist movie. Creation is symbolically feminine but not necessarily feminist. And not only is this about an artist creating art and a mother creating life, but also destruction. Destruction of family.
I left the theater and said it was a lot to process. And I still am, struggling with what else to say in a coherent way.
Art doesn't have to be pleasant. We don't have to agree with it. And I think the movie makes this statement. I don't feel this made this a bad or unwatchable film. Some will find it thought provoking. Others will be horrified. Still others may be bored. But I found it different. Something new in a world of sequels and franchises so I could appreciate that. I might even see it again when it leaves theaters because I want to piece the puzzle together. If such a thing is possible. 6 out of 10.
Adam: As I said before, i was really looking forward to this movie because I’ve generally liked all of what Aronofsky has done before even if it has been weird, dark and macabre, but mother! is an absolutely detestable film that has almost no redeeming qualities. The story makes no sense, most of it is clumsily shot and just follows Jennifer Lawrence around as if she had a camera on her shoulder, the detestable way it denigrates women and turns their love into an object for men to possess and display, and the absolute savagery shown to the human condition means that there is just nothing to recommend about it. I rarely leave a screening legitimately angry about what I just experienced, but mother! was one of the rare films to have me seething as I stomped out of the theater. If Aronofsky ever makes another movie again, it will be too soon. 0 out of 10.
Andy: What’s most infuriating is I really really really wanted to like this movie. It has some amazing elements in it that, if properly developed, could have made something cool. And Aronofsky’s visual sense is right on point here. He masterfully uses his setting to create an emotional response. I can name only a handful of other films that came out this year as competently shot/composed as this. (Detroit, Your Name, Get Out, Dunkirk) But someone needed to sit him down and tell him he was being self-indulgent and an idiot. This is that Jerry Seinfeld joke that the original title for Tolstoy’s novel was War: What is it Good For? If Tolstoy had published that joke draft instead of War and Peace, we would laugh about how terrible that book is. mother! is that underdeveloped potential with an epic that deserves to be told in a more cogent fashion. 2 out of 10.