Mother! (2017)

SEPTEMBER 15, 2017

GENRE: PSYCHOLOGICAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I don't read as much as I'd like, but even if I had all the time in the world I probably wouldn't read the Bible, as I got enough in (Catholic) grade school to know the basic gist, even if some of those particulars are fading in my memory. And I certainly wouldn't read the sort of publications that inform you about celebrities' current dating/marriage status, because there is literally nothing in the world I can imagine caring about less than where anyone besides myself sticks his dick. But if you want to get the most out of Mother! (I'm not doing the lowercase) I might suggest reading up on both, or at least the former while also knowing that director Darren Aronofsky is now dating Jennifer Lawrence, as it helps clarify some of the autobiographical details he has laced his heavily allegorical film with. Though I should stress I didn't know they were dating until after I walked out of the theater, having enjoyed what I saw despite not knowing the current history of its filmmaker.

SPOILERS FOLLOW! The ad campaign has been vague and therefore pretty much any detail counts as a spoiler, but I'm gonna get into it because otherwise there wouldn't be a lot for me to say. You've been warned!!!

If you choose to ignore any deeper meaning or symbolism in the film, you might enjoy it just for its sheer insanity, as this is possibly the nuttiest goddamn movie ever put on over 2,000 screens - and that includes Aronofsky's previous film, Noah, which had giant rock monsters helping to tell the story of the famous ark. It starts off like a low-key home invasion movie of sorts, with Lawrence and her husband (Javier Bardem) enjoying their quiet life in their isolated home when Ed Harris shows up, claiming he thought the place was a B&B and asking to stay the night. Then his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up and Lawrence starts getting a bit weirded out, as Pfeiffer is a bit too forward (it seems like only ten minutes go by after their introduction that she's asking them about their sex life) and Bardem is being way too accomodating. Then more people show up. Then more. And then even more. If nothing else, this movie must have the largest cast for a single location movie ever made, as the camera never leaves JLaw's face for more than a second or two, and her character never leaves the house. But even if no one ever showed up besides Harris and Pfeiffer, it'd still be a terrific exercise in creating tension; from the film's first minute or two we're already made uneasy by how people treat Lawrence, and even though nothing particularly chilling is happening to her, you'll probably start hoping for any break in the anxiety and dread Aronofsky manages to build up with almost nothing happening.

Oh and I'm not calling the characters by their real names out of laziness - they aren't really given any in the film. Bardem is "Him", Lawrence is "Mother" (not "Her", tellingly), Ed Harris is "Man", etc. There's no way to know them until the end credits, so they don't really matter in the long run, but if you missed the biblical connections in the film, crediting Harris and Pfeiffer's children (yep, they show up too) as "Oldest Son" and "Younger brother" should remind you of Cain & Abel, and you can start filling in the others from there - depending on how well versed in the bible you are, of course. It reminded me of Antichrist (a movie I damn near hated), which credited the leads as "He" and "She" and dealt with similar plot threads (marriage, misogyny, etc) while also being the kind of movie that will likely cause walkouts at your screening, though I only saw one (maybe two? I saw two people leave and not come back, but one was sitting in front of me so it was more noticeable that they didn't return - I might have just not seen the other re-enter) at mine. I mean, even though the ads were very WTF? and Aronofsky has never been a "multiplex" kind of filmmaker, folks might STILL find this a bit too much.

But I love crazy, even if I'm not always sure the meaning behind any of it happening. Sometimes it's just kind of awesome to see an Oscar winning actress storm around her house that's been gradually overtaken by insane fans (Bardem's character is a bestselling poet who is mounting a comeback), tearing apart her walls and setting up club equipment for a mini rave in her living room (told you, it's weird). Better, smarter writers than me will write 1,200 word essays on these kind of moments and find fascinating explanations for their inclusion - I on the other hand was just stoked to see character actor extraordinaire Stephen McHattie show up, as I don't think he's been in a wide release from Hollywood in several years (Immortals, maybe? from 2011) and it's nice to see him in something besides some TV show or junky Canadian horror flick. I also had no idea Kristen Wiig was in the movie, so when she showed up I was just as surprised as Lawrence's character, who by that point was having trouble of finding new ways to make a "What NOW?" kind of face as more and more people kept barging into her home and making it their own.

See, even if you ignore the Bible stuff, the movie kind of works as a heightened tale on how difficult it is to share the love your life with his (or her) fanbase, as these people mean well but can be rather intrusive. Bardem points out that he needs to connect with these people to get ideas and be able to create, something he can't get from sitting at home alone with his wife all the time, and Lawrence is devastated that she can't be enough no matter how hard she tries to fulfill his needs (during the movie's few quiet moments she is usually trying to restore his family home, which was largely destroyed in a fire and she is now rebuilding it). This has been read as Aronofsky admitting (defending?) his apparent penchant for being in relationships with his actresses, relationships that haven't worked out, but as a minor creative type I think it's more universal than that, and not even just to men - to all creative folks. Bardem's not wrong - maybe some people can conjure fantastic stories (or whatever their chosen medium may be) without new experiences, but he's not one, and his wife is seemingly devoted to recreating the past and afraid to try anything new (she turns down a drink of some exotic alcohol after insisting she likes to drink, for example).

In fact, if not for a pregnancy plot that takes up the film's second half, I feel the roles could probably be swapped and you could have a healthy chunk of the same takeaway (plus maybe if the roles were swapped it might make me feel less guilty for all of the times I went out to see horror movies so I could write something instead of staying home with my wife). I don't have to deal with it often, but even on my very minor level of (lack of better word here, trust me) fame I occasionally encounter people who just assume we are friends because they follow me on Twitter or whatever, and it feels fairly intrusive if I'm with my kid or even with a few other friends - yet I feel guilty if I just mumble a "thanks" and walk away. The push and pull is, like everything else in the movie, exaggerated to an insane degree, but the same point is being made - anyone in a position to have fans needs their support, and when they overstep their boundaries it can be difficult to tell them to back off, and therefore they're never sure when they've crossed the line. But at the same time we might not inform them of this, so it's not their fault that they are unaware they were off-putting. So in this movie's batshit version of the world, Bardem creating a baby with his wife is no different than creating a new poem to be read - his fans want it, Bardem doesn't want to create conflict with the people who adore him, and that's where the film REALLY goes off the rails.

(Oh, and keeping with the Biblical theme - he's God, by the way. So there's that, but I don't know enough about Aronofsky to make any assumptions with what he's saying there, so let's move on, with respect.)

Indeed, the baby's birth and what happens in its life shortly thereafter is probably where the movie lose the most people. The first half is the buildup to the conception, and the second half is when she's about to pop (it's not "nine months later" per se - the movie is just as vague with time as it is with names, and given that it's not a particularly realistic film by any stretch, it could be the next day for all we know), and once again her home is overrun by strangers (the first batch, with Ed Harris and the rest, are scared off by a burst pipe - i.e. driven out by a flood, in keeping with the biblical ties). If nothing else, you gotta appreciate how much action Aronofsky is able to cram into this damn house - we get raves, riots, shootouts, masses... it kind of reminded me of Snowpiercer in a weird way, with each room of this house being a microcosm not unlike each train of the car was one (hey, Ed Harris was in that too - maybe let's double feature this with that instead of Antichrist). At a certain point it becomes kind of obvious that Lawrence is never going to leave that house, so I kind of love that they staged five action movies' worth of stunt men and scenarios into it instead - I hope like hell the Blu-ray has a production design featurette, if nothing else.

In fact a lot of what I liked about the movie ended up being on the technical side of things as opposed to its characters (ciphers) and narrative (a mish-mash - by design! - of biblical themes and personal struggles). For starters, it's actually shot on film (16mm, I believe), which is such a rarity these days I momentarily thought something was wrong with the projection before I realized it was just film grain. And even though I'm not exactly a huge fan of Jennifer Lawrence, I love the fact that we never leave her POV even for a moment, and she's probably in 90% of the movie's shots, if not more (even cutaways to other characters are frequently over her shoulder or something) - we're never made privy to a single detail that she didn't catch herself, easily making us as uneasy and paranoid as the character. There's a scene where Harris is puking, seemingly naked, and (Bible alert!) sporting a fresh wound near his ribs - she wasn't there when he got the injury (or took his clothes off), so we're never informed what the hell that was all about. I love stuff like that, which goes a long way toward keeping me engaged in the film even though I couldn't tell you what was going on and/or necessarily caring about anyone on-screen in the usual way.

Ultimately, it falls into that category of movies I "appreciate" more than I traditionally "enjoy", like Kidnapped or Martyrs, albeit for different reasons (apart from the aforementioned beating, which lasts only about 20-30 seconds, there's nothing "hardcore" about the film's violence). I'd much rather read other people's interpretations, even ones I disagreed with, than watch the film again, though I still encourage folks to check it out if they think they know what they're in for (and no, it's not really anything like Rosemary's Baby, despite what the posters seemed to be suggesting at one point - though it was a nice misdirect for the early goings on). I suspect it will get an F Cinemascore, which puts it in good company with the likes of Solaris, Bug, and Killing Them Softly (the only F Cinemascore movie I DON'T like is Darkness, in fact), and probably won't do anyone's careers any good, but who cares? It's a remarkable achievement both in the "hey, you've never seen anything like this before" way and also the fact that Paramount put up a lot of money to make and release it wide, instead of dumping it in limited release/VOD. The idea that some suburban soccer mom (or even better, her Katniss Everdeem loving daughter) will walk into their local mall multiplex and see this makes me super giddy, and that's more than enough to qualify it was a win in my house.

What say you?

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