Monday, 9 October 2017

mother! 2017

Darren Aronofsky has done it again. He's delivered a perfectly crafted, difficult to endure, conversation-piece of a film.

After 2010's Black Swan, his best film in my opinion, he directed Noah (2014), his worst in my opinion. So, I desperately needed his next film to remind me of what he is capable of. And mother! is everything an Aronofsky fan could want, and more. Does that mean I loved it? No. Far from it. But there's very little I can fault in it.

First the easy bits - technically, the film is very powerful. The hand-held cameras follow and capture every nuance of the main protagonist's expressions. The cinematography is grainy, and the sound mixing is sharp and accurate. Together, the visuals and sounds, create a constant sense of uncertainty, a fear of the unknown and of impending doom. The editing, for the most part, is excellent (there's room for improvement in the final act). And the direction, the performances (especially Jennifer Lawrence's), the delivery - they're all perfect.

The issue, if there is one, is entirely with the content.

What feels like a psychological thriller (much like Black Swan) slowly reveals itself to be more of a philosophical (like 2006's The Fountain) and theological (like Noah) conundrum. It takes a while to understand what the protagonists stand for, what their story is about, and what Aronofsky wants to tell us. And while that is quite clever, it was for me, quite disappointing. I guess I expected more, and once I realised where I was being led, I just needed it to reveal and end quickly. Hence the very violent, very graphic, very out of control second half felt badly edited; almost unnecessarily long. That may have been intentional too, but it made me dislike the film intensely.

***DETAILED SPOILERS FOLLOW***
The story revolves around a set of unnamed characters: a young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) obsessively fixing and renovating and recreating a childhood home for her husband who she dotes on; her husband, an older man (Javier Bardem), who once wrote a perfect novel, for which he is known, but now struggles to write anything of that stature; a male guest (Ed Harris) who shows up out of nowhere one night, and despite the wife's hesitation, is invited by the husband to stay overnight and seems to provide him with a new-found inspiration; the guest's wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) who shows up unexpectedly the next day, whose existence till that moment was not known, who also ends up staying over just as the hostess's hesitation is turning into a slightly frenzied discomfort (this female guest interferes into the hosts' lives to the point that she meddles with a precious stone the host is especially sensitive about and ends up breaking it, after which she proceeds to have sex with her husband with the door left open); two sons of the guests who show up out of nowhere, have a huge physical fight, and one brother ends up killing the other with a heavy object. As the wake is also held in the same house, new people show up one after another, seemingly taking over the house, breaking things, making the hostess feel unwelcome in her own home, while her husband, who is being fawned over seems oblivious to the damage being done and enjoys the attention and the company with no cares for his wife or his home.

As the ensuing madness reaches boiling point, this chapter ends, to reveal a calmer second chapter, where the guests have been thrown out, the hosts are finally alone again, the house is perfect again, and they are expecting a baby. The husband has finally finished his book, it's been published and has been well received, and they are sitting down to enjoy each other's company, when a fan arrives. And then another. And another. And very quickly, their newly renovated world goes through another cycle of madness, another round of unruly guests who take over the place, steal from it, ravage it, pillage it - all the while ignoring the mother(-to-be). Her husband, once again, is oblivious to the damage, as he is too wrapped up in the fervour around him. She repeatedly asks him to stop them, and he doesn't. A montage of ills befalls her house, and finally as she delivers her baby boy, her husband takes it away and gives it to the fans, who tear it apart within seconds and distribute its flesh and eat it. As she screams in agony at the death of her son, her husband appeases her and asks her to forgive the people. In her rage, she burns the house down - with herself in it, and when she has nothing left to give, her husband takes her beating heart, her precious stone and the cycle starts all over again.

Does any of this sound familiar?

If only Aronofsky had not told the story of a God, weakened by his adoring people, a pillaged Mother Nature and a tortured Mother Mary, and a disgusting  mob of the human race, to create this shabby analogy, I'd have enjoyed the suspense and the creepiness of the film. But the moment, I made the connections, I switched off. And every further reveal just annoyed me. And I can't decide whether I am more angry because this is a preachy parable, based on the Bible or because this is an atheist's angry tirade against a God he doesn't believe in. Are we to learn a lesson about respecting Mother Nature before our world implodes yet again as has been told over and over again in holy books, or are we to hate the very concept of this narcissistic God who in his obsession to be adored has actually turned away from his creation and has give us too much freedom to destroy what we have. Whichever way I look at this, I find myself revolting against the contradictions in the philosophical angles.

***SPOILERS END***

Whatever it may be, one thing is for sure. Darren Aronofsky has made yet another film that will be discussed and analysed for a long time to come.

I can't recommend it, but it is an interesting film. Watch it if you are a fan of Lars Von Trier's Antichrist or films of that ilk.

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