mother! (2017)

Mother! feels like a flash of inspiration, a flurry of excited ideas projected at the screen all at once. In a film that centers on a poet and his own writer's block and subsequent flash of inspiration, it's fitting that from Aronofsky we feel the same. It is difficult to deny the film's power, as we stay with Lawrence through this exercise in the subjective experience, I recalled Son of Saul, only with less feeling and more showmanship. Mother! chiefly focuses on the internal experience of Lawrence made manifest in mostly exaggerated form and for most of the proceedings it works to great effect. Aronofsky indulges himself in a Black Swan redux that corrects the errors in judgement made throughout that project and brings cohesion to the entire idea, mostly by stepping our of reality entirely into a space of total abstraction. We're never shown what exists outside of our screen play here and the play is the thing for all of the film. Aronofsky does well here to abandon all inclination to give his audience clarity or explanation, we need to exist in Lawrence's state of confusion and frustration in order to feel our understanding of what is occurring. It's a great step toward letting go of plot and narrative, though it dives head first into a cinema of character identification in order to do it. For much of the film, however, we are in a state of pure cinema that intoxicates. This is where Mother! really excels and all grasps at characterization fall by the wayside as motivations and actions rarely line up. Aronofsky instead replaces this with a volatility, an endlessly punishing and confounding behavior pattern in all characters other than Bardem and Lawrence to become instantly hostile at the slightest infraction by Lawrence. 

Aronofsky sets up a world whereby Lawrence seems oblivious to what lines she is crossing and what social convention she is breaking in order to manifest this hostility, but it isn't long before she instigates it from every character who comes into contact with her. She is meek, timid and private and the other characters who come as guests to her home are instantly repulsed by her behavior. In this way we are set up with Bardem and Lawrence as characters who stand apart from the rest of humanity, with the caveat that Bardem is regarded as superior to them and worthy of worship and Lawrence is regarded as beneath them and worthy of scorn. Aronofsky has not been shy about explaining the film's biblical roots with characters representing God, Adam, Eve, etc., though in this instance these seeds are not half as interesting to examine as the fruit that the tree actually bears. Mother!'s most interesting moments and readings have little to do with depictions of God and Mother Earth and more to do with the nightmare of dehumanization. Dehumanization works both ways, either turning the person into an icon or "star", raising them above the mere mortal, or in turning them into a lesser thing, an object, to be trampled on and stamped out. What of Lawrence and Bardem and their dehumanizing tendencies? Bardem is able to be adored much for the fact that he looks down on others as children, in love only with his work, his own creations and his own thoughts and deeds. Lawrence is indifferent towards others, self-involved and private, loving the house and her work that she has done on it above all else, loving the private world that she has built for her husband and herself as a devoted wife. It is here that Aronofsky seems to posit that intelligent design and creationism requires a creator, and in the American collective consciousness a creator or an artist is mostly an ego-maniacal narcissist who inherently cares little for others and absorbs in their own self-indulgence. This is, in large part, a problem with the consumer society where citizens seek to create as a means of acquiring accomplishments; it's a roundabout type of consumption, but it's there and it feeds to need to collect whether material or experiential. Aronofsky has therefore created a distinctly 21st century American lens for the God as creator mythos, perverting the divine into the mundane. In all of it, he finds a perfect window into the modern human experience in the developed world. Private people secluded in their homes, lonely and sexless and over-stimulated, yet under-engaged. Lawrence tries to control her own small piece of the world, focuses on home improvements and only wanting interaction with her husband, even through a lack in intimacy and a childless marriage. All the while they draw inward, yet the world thrusts its way into their private world and won't be shut out. Death, destruction, the masses rioting, each with their own greed, wants, needs, grabbing desperately to be a part of something great, slobbering over themselves just to steal a piece of the small bit of heaven that Lawrence tries to make just for them. 

It's bleak and effectively nightmarish. It's bleak in a way that is fashionable and a product of the consumer culture frenzy and that is its weak point. Aronofsky dives into his own subconscious and brings his audience with him for the ride; yet, through it all, he never seems to be examining what he found deep within his mind, never seems to strive for summation or conclusion to his line of thought, no thematic evolution except a circular structure at the picture's closing that wraps up in a bow what should never have been wrapped. There are many strong points to Mother! and the purity of the cinematic firestorm that Aronofsky sets ablaze is a strong work in and of itself. The psychological vulnerability of the subjective experience is classic Hollywood manipulation and in as such the audience's final destination is that of abuse amidst their vulnerability, to have their emotions preyed upon because the director is sure they are to enjoy it. Mother! is a grand opera of the macabre and grotesque with all the fury of a hurricane, a cinematic explosion of gut-wrenching fears manifest. It fails to elevate itself beyond playing on our base emotions, but in this, like all nightmares, we are shaken all the same. 

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