This is what I thought art was about in high-school: a heavy, ‚deep theme‘ held together by rigid structure and the iron will of an artist.
This offhand quote characterizes Aronofskys new work ‚mother!‘ pretty well. It also sums up the approach of somebody caught in an artists fantasy: constantly talking about it(he doesn’t get tired of mentioning that he wrote the script in just five days), even making it the theme of most of his works, but never quite reaching the point of creating and speaking fluidly in his own language. It’s a shame, because I didn’t hate ‚Black Swan‘ and quite enjoy seeing Jennifer Lawrence do her thing. I was quite curious and open to a special experience, but ‚mother!‘ is just so far of the mark on so many levels it made me cringe into my seat…
The story goes like this: In a house sometime, somewhere there lives a couple. He is a poet, an artist, with writers block. She keeps house and has in fact rebuilt the whole burned down house back to it’s creaking, wooden glory. It might be domestic bliss, but is in fact a rotten apple right from the start. After the intro the character ‚mother‘ wakes alone in her bed, already abandoned by her husband and wanders the house alone. After she finds her husband, she pretends at normalcy, but he is distracted and distant until completly unexpected guests show up only to launch the movie into a deranged game of home invasion. A while later not only the strange man and his malicious wife, but also their two sons show up, one of which murders the other and draws a whole funeral party to the supposedly secluded home. ‚mother‘ is insulted, ridiculed and disregarded by the guests and her husband to the point that it seems absurd.
Eventually the tension between the couple gives way to a domestic fight wherein the angry comment ‚You can’t even fuck me‘ drives the husband to assault his wife, but for some reason quickly turns into actual sex and ‚mother‘ wakes up the next day knowing that she is pregnant. The happy news (and a little more importantly their recent guests) finally, finally inspire the writer to work on a new piece. The poem of course becomes a huge sucess. His newfound popularity will make the whole world want a quite literal piece of him and his belongings (meaning his house, wife and child, yes there is a scene where a crowd of people eat the newborn), turn him into some kind of archaic societies demi-god, that is later indicated to actually be God, capital letter intended, by Aronofskys writing.
Of course it is always easy to judge a movie on what you want it to be, to easily disregard the time and effort that went into it in a few sentences. So I always try to take a look at what the movie itself wants to be. Its ’sense of self‘ and how aware it is of its own qualities. Sadly ‚mother!‘ seems to be as self-aware as a person on anesthetics. It wants to be a great allegory on human nature, gender relations, the earth, society and contemporary politics. I have nothing against ambition – quite the contrary – but on his way to launch this great allegorical structure into movement Aronofsky sacrifices or just doesn’t care for a lot of things that make movies worth watching. This movie is just so badly made: No exposition or careful built-up or actual characterization or avoiding horror film clichés. I saw the intro and knew how this was gonna end: An old creaky house, that bleeds from the lightbulb and the floorboards? Her husband jumping out of bed after sex, completly naked but deeply inspired, scribbling away on his paper? Knowing instinctually that she’s pregnant? The heart symbolism? The cheap jump scares? It’s like Aronofsky wants to built an amazing spaceship but doesn’t really care what parts he uses to built it. Machinery is probably a good comparison, because there seems to be nothing in the material or topic itself that moves to form a story. The parts are lifeless and not connected. So instead of being touched or scared or moved in any way, I just had to laugh a lot about Lawrences suffering, about Bardems authoritative disdain, about the mayhem and the deranged seriousness of the ending. The actors are all doing good jobs, it just seems that Darren Aronofsky, who wants to be sorted into the category of provocateur very badly, has missed his mark by a long shot.
This is especially obvious in the relationship between ‚mother‘ and her husband. They are supposed to represent some kind of archetype of man and woman – with women representing mother nature and being endlessly exploited and suffering from men representing actual mankind. This is so utterly common place and stereotypical that it can only be called the shell of a critical opinion. In a similiar way the whole movie falls short of developing any meaningful criticism and instead revels in and enjoys its own clichès. More so it seems to fetishize Lawrences characters suffering, helplessness and her constant inability to act in any meaningful way. A tendency that was already present in ‚Black Swan‘ but that has been cranked up so much it turned devastatingly annoying. So instead of feeling with her and mother earths pains… I just get weary after the first hour. Even ‚mothers‘ one moment of anger and revenge, that could have taken the tale into greek-tragedy Medea-style territory, lasts only a few seconds and is taken away too fast for the eye to see. That she is supposed to represent earth and nature at the same time and actually warn us of ongoing climate change only adds to the mess. Everything just starts again without any consequence only with a different woman as ‚mother‘. It doesn’t matter that there is in fact only one planet earth. Thats just another thing Aronofsky has sacrificed for his allegorical uber structure.
At the end there is only one last thing to say: I am the last one to rage against poetic or philosophical, even brutally tragic and pessimistic movies, but Aronofskys ‚mother!‘ is like an unintentional satire on that kind of filmmaking, a trashy version with fake blood and creaky wooden houses and magic stones. Maybe that’s a good thought to keep in mind. Just pretend it’s a satire and suddenly it’s genius.
The picture for this article belongs to the Website of La biennale di Venezia.