Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.
Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino.
Adam: Mother! is the latest mindfuck from writer-director Darren Aronofsky, telling the tale of a couple (Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem) holed up in their secluded home where he is struggling with writer’s block and she is refurbishing their entire house. Things seem to be ok until a mysterious stranger (Ed Harris) arrives at their door, followed by another (Michelle Pfeiffer) and another and another. Lawrence doesn’t like this. To give away more would be too spoilery, so I’ll stop there with the plot synopsis.
Rob: First, let me say that I just saw Mother! this afternoon, so I’m still pretty raw and probably won’t be as articulate as I want to be about it. Hopefully, that comes with time and repeated viewings. For now, I’ll just say that Mother! is the first film I’ve seen in a long time that was actually too much for me. It was physically overwhelming at times, and I absolutely was not ready for some of the places it ended up going. And it isn’t so much about gore or jump scares as it is emotional resonance. I didn’t expect a movie that would hit me so hard precisely where I live. Watching Mother! felt like grinding my worst and most disgusting personality flaws into a colorful, ugly paste, lighting that paste on fire, and then shoving my face into it. As you mentioned, there are a thousand possible interpretations of the film varying from fantasy fever dream to religious allegory, but those are all secondary to the way it really made me confront all of the awful things men do to women every day — the destructive power of our egos and the casual selfishness that can make life hell for our partners. I was uncomfortable and angry during every second of this film. It made me want to drown myself in battery acid. Needless to say, I really loved it.
You mentioned that it emotionally affected you, but I had the opposite reaction. I am completely numb by it. I think the movie could be about the environment, how women are treated in 2017, what it’s like to be a normal person in the craziness of the world today, a biblical allegory, a semi-autobiographical fever dream about Darren Aronofsky’s career and relationship to his family and fans or just about being a creative individual in general in the world of social media and instant feedback. I can’t dismiss a movie that is doing all those things. So, I’m of two minds about the movie. I don’t want to feel the way it wants me to feel, so I’m only willing to meet it halfway. I think a lot of people will be in a similar boat, though I completely understand viewers who are willing to give over to the experience entirely. For me, it’s mostly an aesthetic thing. I don’t like the look of the 16mm photography (this is one of my few technical gripes; I think the movie would be equally effective in 35mm or digital), the choice to shoot everything in close-up is annoying (again, I do know that’s deliberate) and the movie is manic in ways that repels me in most movies. I just get quickly annoyed by films where it devolves into dystopia and anarchy, which Mother! most certainly does.
Adam: This movie played like the world’s cruelest VR experience.
Rob: Absolutely, and that’s one of the reasons the cinematography worked so well for me. It’s crucial that we feel as claustrophobic and powerless as Lawrence’s character. It recalls Requiem for a Dream a little bit and really sells the scarier bits.
Rob: Maybe I just enjoy confronting and exploring the things that make me uncomfortable more than other people do? I don’t know. That sounds really douchey. Plus, if that’s the case, why aren’t I a bigger horror fan? I think it’s just that I hate myself. Anyway, I guess I don’t have the JLaw baggage, either. I never seem to have an issue with her because I think she tries interesting things when she’s not paying the bills with X-Men movies. But again, totally subjective. I do want to say that Mother! is without a doubt going to inspire some of the Worst Takes on the internet in the next few weeks. I may just sign out of Twitter until #ScaryMovieMonth to avoid all the misinterpretation and angry mansplaining.
You touched a little bit on the idea of creation, and this movie definitely seems to be Darrenofsky letting loose a few demons on that front. Even without the Lawrence character (or the “inspiration” she represents), I think it’s a fascinating look at the creation/destruction cycle that plagues a lot of artists. A lot of people are going to say this movie is pretentious and masturbatory, but its point of view on this topic is so clear that it’s hard not to see that self-loathing at work. Then, when you add the JLaw character back into the mix as the unknowing, unappreciated inspiration, it creates this weird box around that creation and shows us how invasive and fleeting it is from her point of view. She’s not even allowed to see it! I don’t know. I’m still unpacking a lot of my thoughts about that aspect of the film, but I love that it has so much on its mind. Plus, Pfeiffer!
The Fountain, and Noah, which I admire but never revisit. The two that worked for my sensibility the most are still The Wrestler and Black Swan, because I felt the most sympathy for its protagonists. I’m still going to vote Mark Ahn for Mother!. As for Pfeiffer, she’s good. So is Ed Harris, but they’re doing what they do. I don’t know. I guess I’m taking them for granted. I’m having a hard time with this review for some reason. Sorry.
Rob: Don’t be sorry! One of these days, you and I are both going to get really excited about a movie at the SAME TIME. It’ll be great. I’m giving Mother! a very enthusiastic Mark Ahn. It’s grimey and mean in a way that studio movies haven’t been lately, while at the same time inspiring a lot of beauty and introspection. It’s almost like movies can do lots of different things in different ways! I look forward to talking more about this one.
Adam: But…can we agree it’s not horror? Just kidding. What are we reviewing next week?
Rob: We are going to see if the Kingsman franchise can tongue-in-cheek its way through another installment with The Golden Circle. There are American spies this time. They have cowboy hats!
Adam: I’m guessing we’ll learn what “The Golden Circle” is. Until next time…
Rob: These seats are reserved.
This is one of those where I understand all, well, most (all would just be including too many people who didn't even finish it) people's take on the movie. I really liked it, and all critical faculties in my body tell me it's very "good." Will it make a top ten of 2017 "favorites"? Maybe. Maybe not. But I think it's going to be remembered like one of those Felini Satyricon or Salo Criterion-like movies.ReplyDelete
On the topic of not being the same film goer one once was, I had that same experience earlier this year with It Comes at Night. Putting whether it's good or bad aside, after it was over I just felt like moving on and saying well that's that and making the wanking fist motion, whereas ten years ago, 5 years ago I would dive into it. With mother! I do feel like diving head first into interpreting themes and theories and everything else. I think that's the difference of a director firing on all cylinders (Aronofsky) and having a complete idea onto the screen.
This is really off topic, but i just want to point out that in the picture where he's holding some kind of map, Darren Aronovsky is wearing a Montreal Expos baseball capReplyDelete
That would be his team. I can see him watching a turned off TV for 4 hours every Sunday during baseball season.Delete
I'm not really on board with the interpretations regarding the mistreatment of women. Now before anyone calls me out for white male privilege, hear me out. I'm basing this mostly on the environmental/religious interpretations, because I think those are the most obvious. If we're assuming the relationship between Lawrence and Bardem is that of God and the Earth, I don't think it's fair to see it as a relationship between a man and a woman. All of the mortals in the film are shitty, men and women alike. To me, it's about the mistreatment of Mother Earth from us humans who think we were created for a reason, created by a god who uses Mother Earth merely as a canvas to attempt his own (art) not realizing that Mother Earth is greater than anything he'll ever hope to create.ReplyDelete
I also like the idea that for as helpless and ignored as Mother is, she's the only one who has the actual power to create and also destroy life. God is merely a slave to Mother, he's too blind to see her beauty, and he creates us in his image, thus making us blind to her beauty as well.
I think the environmental and religious aspects are among the many possible interpretations. If anything, the interplay between the themes makes each interpretation stronger.Delete
Absolutely! And I think that's what makes the film so strong. Each theme and interpretation build off each other, you can't really have one thing, without another, if that makes sense.Delete
I think it's hard to deny the film is saying something about wives who's lives are in control of their husbands and the anxiety and stress that causes. The religious/environmental stuff is most prevelent, but the gender stuff is their too.Delete
I think the religious allegory actually supports the gender reading. It's God (Him) and (Mother) Earth, in a dynamic in which the woman is only there in service to the male, who exists in a subservient position throughout - which is the same dynamic at play in a patriarchy (which is also the source of Judeo-Christianity). It's also not just a case of whether or not women can be shitty to each other, it's the way in which Pfeiffer's character is shitty to Lawrence - dismissing her concerns, interests, passions, and defining her solely in relation to Bardem.Delete
But Mother is still the only one who can truly control the outcome of everything. Which I think shows that women, while they may be subject to abuse and neglect, still always have control over men.Delete
I think it depends on whether you're viewing it from Man's perspective, or God's. Sure, Mother ultimately has the final say in the survival (or not) of humanity, but God can always start over again.Delete
This is the first movie in a looooong time that inspired a real conversation as we left the theatre. Even though it was about midnight, my partner and my friend all stood outside the theatre and talked about the movie for about 45 minutes. After the conversation was over I realized how important moxies like this are. I 100% get people hating this movie, but have no patience for people that are angry it exists. We NEED movies like this - movies that don't care about our expectations or what we think we want to see. I think this might be my favourite movie of the year so far.ReplyDelete
Also as far as it being about how men treat women, remember that the bible views God as a man, and has some pretty awful things to say about women. I think one of the many thugs this film is trying to do is responding to that.
I had the same reaction to mother! that I had to The Witch last year. Its good and it's interesting, but it's so thoroughly and relentlessly unpleasant that I can never watch it again.ReplyDelete
I was kind of weirded out that no one else seems to be talking about how darkly funny the movie is, but then Rian Johnson weighed in on twitter so I feel vindicated. I just plain found it very funny in how it takes tropes of horror movies and misogynistic characters and mixes them up with Sam Shepard and Shirley Jackson plots and turns everything up to 11. I liked it a lot!ReplyDelete
I was thinking while watching it that some parts definitely come off like a surrealist comedy. I think Luis Bunuel would have approved.Delete
Just a quick question, I want to see this because of Michelle Pfeiffer. Is she in it enough to warrant me seeing it theatrically? Be advised I saw The Family theatrically, so that's the level I'll go to.ReplyDelete
I'd give the cumulative run time of her scenes about 30-35 minutes. She doesn't show up until about 20 minutes in, then exits the film at maybe the 80 minute mark. She's a secondary character, but earns her 4th billing.Delete
She's in it enough definitely to warrant seeing it for her. She's fierce and catty. But she's not gonna get that Oscar nomination I was hoping for :(Delete
PSA: JB wrote some thoughts on mother! in the comments of his latest article.ReplyDelete
While walking into the theater, I told myself it better not be another pompous religious allegory, which I so rarely find subtle or thought-provoking. Well, it turns out that I was so hit on a personal level by what was actually on the screen that the whole God/Earth thing never occurred to me, whereas it seems pretty obvious now that I read it here.ReplyDelete
And I actually think I'm going to ignore it, because as you point out, the movie does have this quality: it gives you many trails, that you are free to chose to follow or not.
I left the theater exhausted, deeply moved, because I had just seen something that hit home with an absurd amount of precision. I did realize that what shook me so hard was their relationship and their dynamic, and couldn't possibly be what the whole movie was about, but I was ok with it. With not "getting" everything. And I'm now convinced that had I seen aforementioned allegory while watching, I'd have had a really strong negative reaction to the movie.
I absolutely agree about the dark humour! Although the whole "invasion of your private space" was so physically unbearable to me that it kind of kept me from really enjoying it. Which is absolutely fine.