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.