There will be spoilers…
I went in cold to see this in an empty (except for one couple, should I have asked them out for coffee?), freezing cold mall theater yesterday at noon and came out feeling seriously traumatized. After reading a Daily Mail article (a daily bad habit, but I tell myself it provides grist for my creative writing) describing Mother! by Darren Aronofsky as the worst film ever made, I just knew I had to see it—right now!
Having seen it, I can’t decide which is worse: having perfect strangers show up at your door and start to trash your home (I’ve had some incidents with wasted friends, very triggering) or hearing the neck snap of a crowd-surfing, newborn baby (on which previously the audience is treated to lingering, bonding close-ups) which is then cannibalized by a maniacal, rioting crowd in some sick act of holy communion. That the entire movie up to this point is told in tight, hand-held close-ups of Jennifer Lawrence’s dewy face (she really is a perfect beauty) and point of views makes this moment that much more devastating. I tried to force myself to laugh away the primal revulsion I felt at this cinematic taboo shattering, but I couldn’t. It hit me like a harpoon to the solar plexus which I assume was the auteur’s intent.
This is one of those films (like The Neon Demon—also featuring an act of cannibalism) which I am very glad I went to see cold. I didn’t pick up on the fact that I was experiencing a biblical allegory until Cain and Abel began duking it out. Afterwards, when I began devouring the reviews, I learned that the director was being very literal with all of this, from the naming of the characters as Him, Man, Woman, Mother to the baby as Jesus given to an undeserving people (an understatement, this film presents one of the bleakest views of mankind you will ever see) by God. Jarvier Bardem, with a handsome/scary face carved like an Aztec stone sculpture (this occurred to me when he was ripping the heart out of poor Jennifer Lawrence—as if the girl hadn’t suffered enough), plays God as written by Aronofsky: a real asshole who eats up the adoration of his faithful flock while ignoring his loving and giving “wife” (mother earth). Perhaps knowing that this was a literal work of symbolism might have softened the blow. After all, we’re used to these atrocities in the the Bible (or maybe Game of Thrones). Right?
Perhaps I’m not that seeped in religion, but my first impression was this was a metaphor for the artist (creator) as monster, how he will destroy the young muses who worship him (mate with them, abandon their children, tear out their hearts) again and again and again, in an endless cycle (or at least until he dies and another asshole artist takes his place). One only has to read the Daily Mail to know these characters do exist in real life, and perhaps the director (who is purportedly with Lawrence who must be twenty years his junior) knows something about this.
As a film, it’s stellar on every front. The cinematography (16mm) soaks of the textures and bland earth tones of the dilapidated Victorian house as well as the textures of Lawrence herself: the dewy skin which I mentioned, the open weave of her sweater, the strands of her wheat colored hair (a wig? extensions? Whatever it is, the hairdresser deserves an Oscar).
Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer (one of her best performances, her grand dame Jessica Lange turn can not come too soon) show up to provide salt in the wounds comic relief. Harris is great at playing harmless nut-jobs who could break into homicidal maniacs at any moment and he doesn’t disappoint. Pfeiffer plays that first class bitch we all know, clinging to the patriarchal “God” while throwing poison darts at poor “Mother” earth. We need to see more of Pfeiffer, who at nearly sixty is still beautiful and very sexy (she has a brief scene with Harris as a horny Eve to his still game Adam that proves it). The scenes with her and Lawrence had me wondering what was more beautiful: the unsullied but naive perfection of youth, or the ripening but hardened imperfection of age. The film offers ample opportunities to mediate on such things.
All in all, I’m glad I saw it in the movie theater without distractions (it deserves that kind of attention) and I’m glad I didn’t read the director’s “liner notes” beforehand. Good art should stand on its own merit. Let the critics and audience (no pun intended) pick over the corpse later.