Mother! Should Be Retitled The Gospel of Aronofsky

Original post can be found on The Cinematropolis

FULL MOTHER! SPOILERS AHEAD!

Darren Aronofsky has long been one of the more polarizing filmmakers of our time. He made himself a name with films like Requiem for a DreamPi, and The Wrestler eventually rising to the ranks of Oscar contender with Black Swan. Mother! isn’t quite like any of those films, but is instead, a movie that’s even more personal to his life and career despite its appearance as a retelling of the Christian Genesis story.

His unique touches have been divisive at best. Critics have been more favorable with a 68% Tomatometer rating, but if its recent “F” Cinemascore is any indication, audiences are divided, but don’t be discouraged! Underneath all of the upsetting imagery and shocking turns lies a deeply personal film from one of Hollywood’s most refined auteurs. Mother! is an autobiographical cautionary parable of biblical proportions about God, Mother Nature and Aronofsky’s own inability to reconcile his relationship to his creations.

Jennifer Lawrence (Mother) and Javier Bardem(him) play a couple living in a farmhouse in the country who are often disconnected from one another. He (yes, that is his credited name) is a famous poet with a severe case of writer’s block and she is the caretaker rebuilding their home after a recent house fire. His self-loathing and egotism boils to the surface when Ed Harris (man) arrives and needs a place to stay for the night. After falling very ill, the man’s wife, Michelle Phifer(woman), arrives to come to his aid. Mother is not happy about their arrival and upon seeing His thirst for their attention, encourages her guests to leave.

Javier Bardem’s “Him” is a well-meaning creator who also can’t help but give in to the love and adoration of his fans. While Mother is rebuilding a home for the two of them to live and raise a family in, he keeps Himself distant. That is until he and his muse make love and she announces her pregnancy. This spark of new life gives Him the inspiration to produce a poem so powerful that followers from all over the world travel to their home to meet him. As the crowds start to grow, His obsession with fans quickly overtakes the attention he has for his wife and eventually their newborn baby.

Mother!

The Christian creation allegory isn’t going to be immediately noticeable to everyone, especially viewers without a history with the biblical source material, but for me, the parallels to Genesis finally clicked somewhere after the Gleeson brothers arrived to fight each other to the death, but before Kristin Wiig arrived and began brutally executing hostages, Zero Dark Thirty-style.

Mother! reads like an old testament creation narrative, but by the end, a few key traits put this story more in line with other cautionary parables. If you weren’t a regular Sunday School attendee, a parable is defined as “a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson,” by the Oxford living dictionaries. Parables usually include a few traits that set them apart from other forms of storytelling in the Bible. Parables always have a point or “moral of the story” and often use characters and plot points as symbols to represent the larger themes or ideas of the story.

Aronofsky deploys this style in Mother!. His characters, Him being God and Mother representing Mother Nature, are there to stand in for what Aronofsky believes existed in the beginning before man was around. Their house is the Garden of Eden and their marriage is the thing holding the fabric of reality together. These characters are painted broadly and are frequently put in bizarre scenarios that make little sense in terms of plot but are critical to the film’s meaning.

Like my other personal favorite from Aronofsky, The Fountain, Mother! doesn’t just exist in obscurity, but rather embraces it to challenge viewers to be analytical, open-minded and even contemplative to find the meaning hidden within the madness. In both films, Aronofsky implements a more brutal form of didactic storytelling designed to push the viewers to the edge of their comfort zone in order confront commonly accepted notions. In Mother!, Aronofsky challenges the perception of a loving, all-knowing God by begging the question, why do creators create and how does the fame and success of creation impact the individual and the family?

Through Aronofsky’s native Christian lens: this parable about God, Mother Nature, and their relationships to creation is a tragic one. Following this interpretation implies a couple of different ideas. Firstly, it means Aronofsky believes God is an unwitting ego-maniac whose thirst for love and adoration is insatiable. Throughout the film, we witness Bardem downplay or dismiss his partner’s acts of love in favor of the attention he receives from this fandom. He sends his new poem to the publisher before letting Mother read it, refuses to send strangers who are destroying their home away and eventually he ignores her wishes to keep their baby in order to satisfy his worshipers. Aronofsky suggests that God thirsts for praise and affection and will choose the attention of mankind over the beauty of mother nature every time. Eventually, mother nature will react by self-destructing, burning all of the things he loves to the ground.

The second thing this reading implies is how unwittingly destructive the human race is as it beats mother nature down. The bystanders in the movie first appear as fans, but their obsession quickly escalates to separation, violence and even an embrace of war to profess a greater love for His poem.  Without diverting too much attention from the central conflict in His and Mother’s marriage, the movie also touches on the evolution of culture and belief by showing how different subcultures quickly evolve and turn on each other. This choice gives Aronofsky a way to touch on religious wars, police brutality, the recent immigrant crisis and eventually even a rather disturbing literal visual interpretation of communion. Yes.You read that right, a group of religious people tear a dead baby to pieces and consume its flesh as an act of worship in Mother’s own house.

This more surface level biblical reading gives viewers a pretty good idea of what to spot in terms of plot, but what about in the second half of the film when it goes off the rails into the realm of visual crazy town? How could anything so brutal carry such a personal meaning? Everyone is going to have their interpretation, but to best understand the beautiful chaos, we’ll need to dig a little further into the mind of the director.

In an attempt to enforce damage control on the film’s less enthusiastic reception, Aronofsky has already spelled out the Christian allegory in multiple interviews, but what his answers don’t tell us is the biographical subtext hinting at the apparent similarities between Bardem’s character and himself.

Bardem himself is the same age as Aronofsky and his frustration as an artist and inability to support his partner cannot be ignored. Just as Jennifer Lawrence replaces a woman in the film’s opening and is then replaced by yet another woman at the end of the film, Darren Aronofsky has recently entered into a relationship with Jennifer Lawrence, surely in hopes that won’t end in destruction. One could even argue that this script was a cathartic exercise that allowed him to move on from his previous romantic relationship with actress Rachel Weisz.

When the film is read autobiographically, it’s hard not become cynical and consider this entire film as Aronofsky’s self-indulgent ego booster about the vital struggles artists deal with in their relationships. It’s especially frustrating when you consider the role of the artist as God in the story. His personal and professional lives aside, the film also incorporates some of his greatest passions including his Harvard field of study, social anthropology, and his experience with Greenpeace. The film is an amalgamation of his most passionate interests and recent life experiences.

Is Mother! about creation and God’s relationship to it? Sure, but when we look even closer, we can see a story only Aronofsky could tell. His script was initially drafted in five days, meaning it lacked the development time of some of his other projects. This limited timeframe enabled the personal touches only he could bring to the table to shine through even brighter. All of these details make Mother! the acclaimed director’s most experiential film to date.

The beauty of the Aronofsky’s controversial film is that movies driven by such a singular vision simply do not get made in 2017. To see this class of movie produced by the same studio that brought us Transformers: The Last Knight two months ago is nothing short of a Hollywood miracle. No matter how anyone feels about this movie, Mother! should be celebrated as an artistic achievement in an era of studio filmmaking that has become dangerously obsessed with recycling familiar brands and preying on nostalgia. Controversy aside, the stunning imagery and largely universal themes from Aronofsky’s destined to make Mother! his most timeless classic yet.

 

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