Darren Aronofsky, 2017, USA
The trailer for ‘mother!’ was shown frequently at FrightFest 2017 and it seemed to be a home invasion/scary cult ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ kind of thing: I was thinking that the trailer gave away too much. But of course, now I see that is all those things too but that a trailer could not give it all away even if it tried, because Arofonsly’s latest is all allegory and that’s the kind of thing a teaser cannot convey. I went into it with a horror fan’s mindset, feeling unease at the infiltration of the domestic setting between Jennifer Lawrence (“Mother”) and Javier Badhem (“Him”), enjoying the bonkers escalation of events when their siblings turn up. But by the time it becomes clear this is all symbolism and metaphor, such tension dissipates and the main job is to decode and ride the escalation of events as things go off the rails.
And then, as they are all symbols, it becomes apparent that involvement with the characters as personalities is moot, although Lawrence and Badhem and the cast in general are great: they provide the human ingredient. There is a lot of humour and farce to be had in the scenario of people just turning up all the time – and Michelle Pfeiffer’s increasing scathing looks got frequent laughs when I saw it – and there is a underlying affinity with schlock and exploitation that is surely being lost on people that simply see it as pretentious: this is in accord with Aronofsky’s previous work as much as the religious allusions. It has a visceral full-throttle and swelling trajectory that is surely derived from the horror genre.
When I first came out I said that I didn’t think there was much to decode: but that is obviously wrong and what I think I meant was that it it’s so evidently an allegory that there is no mystery. Aronofsky has posited ‘mother!’ as an allegory for our times: Lawrence represents mother Earth and so on; and then there are the multitude of religious references. But I am of the mind that people think religious references instantaneously meaningful instead of lazy and obvious and I am not the receptive audience for parables. A friend of mine saw it as an allegory for abusive relationships. Indeed, it can easily be seen as a tale of how men use young women up and then just move on: if you find this critical of patriarchy may depend on whether you think Aronofsky is being empathic or guilty of relishing a little too much the suffering of women (I tend to think it’s sympathetic, but like ‘Black Swan’, it treads a fine line). And if one subscribes to its value as parable, it can be read as equally as scathing of how religion abuses women as ‘Martyrs’.
As I am not one to think religious insinuation is intrinsically profound, my interpretation was that ‘mother!’ was an allegory for the creative process with Jennifer Lawrence being the somewhat mistreated muse. You let the fans in, they inspire you, they are weird, have a party with and start wars/arguments over your art and eventually they tear it all apart with their cult fandom – they find the unbraced sink of weakness and test it until it brings the wall down – and then you have to start again with a new muse. That such a conceit has been promoted in such a mainstream style amuses me no end. It’s going to be so divisive –and it is – because it isn’t what you expect and behaves more like one of those films that mainstream audiences hate (and where the goal was to get people through the door, the promotion surely worked). It’s certainly a film that grows in stature upon consideration afterwards – if you do like it at all – but as a film that straddles the absurdities of the horror genre and the pomp of art cinema, it’s certainly a go-for-broke effort.