Darren Aronofsky’s latest outing, mother!, has been defined as a somewhat unconventional. In fact, very rarely have we seen such a divide between film critics and moviegoers, with the former describing it as an intriguing spectacle, albeit a daunting one as well, while the latter sees the film as an increasingly flawed psychological drama. Moviegoers have gone so far as to give the film a rare F on Cinema Score. Warning: possible spoilers below!!!
But is the film really, truly that bad? Well let’s put it this way, if there is going to be a film discussed within the next decade in film study courses alike, it is sure to be mother!.
There have already been countless analysis and theories written about the true meaning behind Aronofsky’s film. The soon-to-be cult classic is bound to find a devoted genus of fans and I will proudly proclaim to be its first member since Aronofsky and co. have crafted a psychological movie of epic proportions.
Many will blame Aronofsky for being a bit too unfocused or pretentious with his film — I mean you kind of have to be a little pretentious to write and direct a movie like this. However, I would suggest #Paramount, the film’s main distributor, is to blame.
It is hard to sell a Darren Aronofsky film, plain and simple. With the recent release of #StephenKing’s #It, Paramount decided to follow in its tracks and sell mother! as a horror film unlike any other. Its trailers were cut to imply that it is less of a film and more of a horror experience. A #horror experience that one will not forget once its first seconds begin.
While I can certainly attest to that theme, it have to disagree with the horror element. Sure there are moments of terror and gruesome imagery, but it is more of a psychological film that sets its mind to challenge its audience rather than entertain them with jump scares.
In selling the film as a horror picture to moviegoers, people were not at all expecting all of the religious allegory that took place. Moviegoers wanted to be frightened and creeped out, not forced to sit through a Sunday bible class rehashing featuring A-listers.
That is where I place the fault on Paramount as they should have sold the film as another screwed up Aronofsky masterpiece to his most devoted fans — and there are a lot of us.
In this instance, we would have at least understood what to expect since anybody who is a fan of Aronofsky is well aware of his love for incorporating the themes of the Old Testament into his work. In fact, Aronofsky has a long film cannon filled with stories driven by the same old biblical morals we know of. These re-interpretations give off the impression that history will repeat itself and characters are bound by the flawed human condition.
These parallels were first introduced in Aronofsky’s first film Pi. The film follows a mathematician named Max who gives in to his obsession with a secret numerical scripture. The plot furthers as we follow a group of Hasidic Jews pestering Max to find these numbers in the Torah since it may be the name of God, bringing them one step closer to divinity.
Similarly, Aronofsky’s passion project The Fountain, another divisive film between critics and moviegoers, follows the ideologies of the Old Testament which include obsession, redemption, and death. The film’s opening texts quote the Book of Genesis 3:24:
“Therefore, the Lord God banished Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden and placed a flaming sword to protect the tree of life.”
From spanning through the Spanish Inquisition, present day, and the year 2500, Aronofsky suggests that religion and belief transcend through time and, just like Pi, the film is about the marriage between religion and science. Hugh Jackman plays three variations of the same character, one of which is a scientist trying to find the cure for cancer.
The quest to the Tree of Life (which is in South America apparently) is a religious allegory of the eagerness human beings have to beat death and search for immortality.
Many have different interpretations of what the film’s true meanings are, or what genre to even put it in. I would classify it as a magical realism/science fiction romantic drama. Makes sense? No? Well that’s because what I define it as may not be what another does. It is one of those films that require repeated viewings since there is always something different to take away from it.
From the outskirts, many are reluctant to see any religious allegory in The Wrestler or Black Swan let alone a relationship between the two movies. The Wrestler is a drama comedy that’s shot like a TLC-esque “where are they now” documentary. Black Swan is an erotic psychological horror thriller. However, Aronofsky has gone on the record to describe both films as companion pieces.
Aronofsky explores both worlds expertly, the low-art form of wrestling and the high-art world of ballet to convey the equally brutal nature of both worlds with correlations to the physical sacrifices of Christ.
Both films follow the bodily sacrifices made by Randy “the Ram” Robinson in The Wrestler and Nina Sayers in Black Swan, respectively. The correlation is manifested most when Randy, during his second wrestling match, is seen with bloody cuts and bruises, pulling out staples and glass shards from his back and torso. Randy makes sacrifices to his physical state and very being in the name of his art world. Suffering from a heart attack and further injuries, Randy continues to pursue what he feels is his calling.
Nina similarly diminishes her body with broken ribs, scabs, and other bruises while her mind and psyche begin to deteriorate. Both characters are “resurrected” after their final performance — the single best performance they have been building their entire careers for. Ironically, we are uncertain of the fates of these characters as the films fade to black right at the end of their performances.
Religious allegory is a genre in of itself that has been finding its way into the mainstream audience circle, namely the ones within the horror genre.
Roman Polanski’s #Rosemary’sBaby is a horror classic that has paved the way for pop culture renditions and introduced some of the most controversial topics that had yet to make their way into many of the films of that time such as abortion, sexual assault, and Satanism.
After his most blatantly religious film, Noah, Aronofsky jumped into his latest film, mother!. The influence of Rosemary’s Baby has clearly left residue on each and every frame of Aronofsky’s film. Polanski’s masterpiece is known quite well for its terrific use of psychological torment. For example, aside from the bloody suicide of the neighbor, the film does not resort to special effects make-up or gory details. We never actually see Rosemary’s baby or the demons who assault Rosemary, instead we get brief images and an overall atmosphere of tension brilliantly built by #Polanski.
Just like Polanski often times lingers on Mia Farrow’s face, catching each and every emotion she conveys, Aronofsky relies heavily on extreme close-ups of #JenniferLawrence. We are far more concerned with Lawrence’s reaction as opposed to reveling in what is going on inside of the house.
Speaking of Lawrence, it is not hard to be frustrated with her character. The things that she allows to go on inside of her own house would be enough to send anyone over the edge. She allows strangers to stumble into her house by the dozens, guests break things, have sex in many different rooms, and her character is constantly telling her guests to stop doing the things that might damage her house. Her character, like Rosemary, takes on a passive role and is just there to react to the turmoil, both inner and physically.
Yes, it is every easy to be frustrated by both characters, but it is easy to forget what they really want. Overall, both characters just want a warm and safe home to start a family. Rosemary is enamored with her New York City apartment that she will be sharing with her husband, Guy Woodhouse, and their new baby. Lawrence’s character is just trying to rebuild a home suitable enough for her and her husband, played by Javier Bardem, before they have a child.
They are characters obsessed with delving into the family life, uninterrupted and free of criticisms. However, the films exaggerate these interruptions and criticisms in the form of Minnie and Roman Castevet as well as Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer’s characters in Rosemary’s Baby and mother!, respectively.
They are constantly showing up unannounced and throwing in their two cents in regards to the couples’ marriages and future family. This is more than evident with the introduction of Harris and Pfeiffer.
It is important to note that none of these characters have any names film which furthers Aronofsky’s themes of religion. By not giving these characters any names, they become symbols and blank lines for audiences to fill in.
The evidence that Harris is Adam and Pfeiffer is Eve is pretty clear. What first appears to be nothing (but than you realize it is an Aronofsky movie and nothing usually means something) there is a wound on Harris’ rib that Bardem quickly covers up. A direct reference to the rib of Adam from the Book of Genesis.
Of course Harris and Pfeiffer are the first characters to arrive at the house, which is evidence in of itself, but it is furthered when their two sons, representations of Cain and Abel, arrive and ends with one killing the other.
Rosemary’s Baby delves into Satanism and ritualistic sex with the rape and impregnation of Rosemary. The dream sequence is drenched in religious allegory as Rosemary is seen asking for forgiveness from the pope himself while Satan is in her bedroom. That fact that Guy Woodhouse is willing to sell Rosemary’s body to his neighboring Satanists to further his acting career becomes a theme that is carried over in mother!.
Bardem plays a struggling writer who allows his readers to destroy his home and traumatize Lawrence for the acclaim of his poetry. This makes Bardem’s character a representation of God and his poetry becomes the bible. The total destruction of the house by his readers and guests are representations of religious followers destroying their home in the name of religion. This would, of course, make Lawrence Mother Nature and the house is the earth.
This is just one interpretation in a slew of probably hundreds, but the evidence becomes more and more apparent as the third act continues. The birth of their child is a representation of Jesus. The baby’s subsequent death follows the same story as in the bible and his followers eating the body of Christ is, well, self-explanatory.
Now you can see why such a film is a divisive one between critics and audiences. There are some heavy and graphic themes at play here and Aronofsky does not shy away in the slightest.
Now is it as bad as people say? No, just misunderstood. Moviegoers went in expecting one movie and got something completely different…completely different. That third act especially requires a second, third, even seventh viewing. Equipped with raves, military coups, and naked people in bathtubs — there was a lot going on and one thing is for sure, aside from its clear influences from Rosemary’s Baby, no one will deny that there is nothing like it.
What did you guys think of mother!?