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 and sums up the immature 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 film 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 out of embarassment…
The story goes like this: In a house sometime, somewhere there lives a couple. He is a poet, an artist, with writers block. She on the other hand cooks and cleans and in fact has rebuilt the whole burned down house back to 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 to jump start 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. The angry ‚mothers‘ comment (‚You can’t even fuck me‘) drives her husband to sexually assault her, but this quickly turns into actual sex and ‚mother‘ wakes up the next day, just intuitively 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, effort and heartblood that went into it in a few over-critical 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 under anesthesia. 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 anything. This movie is just so badly made: No exposition or careful built-up or actual characterization or avoiding horror film or even the worst gender clichès. I saw the intro and new how this was gonna end. I mean 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? Knowing instinctually the morning after 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 themselves. It’s a story entirely too satisfied with being a story and not in that enjoyable Tarantino-way. 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 great jobs as expected, it just seems that Darren Aronofsky, who happily and neatly fits himself into the image of provocateur, an artist who can’t resist making controversial movies, has missed his mark by a long shot, because I can’t take his work seriously.
This is especially obvious when one looks at the relationship between ‚mother‘ and her husband who are supposed to represent the archetypes of man and woman. With women being endlessly exploited and suffering from the men who pretend to be creating only out of themselves. ‚I am I. I create because that’s who I am.‘ the character of Javier Bardem says at the very end ‚You however are home. And you still love me after everything.‘ After this revelation he rips the heart out of her burned body to extract some kind of magical stone that rewinds time and starts the story again only with a different woman. 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 empathising with mother earths pain I just get weary of her. I tried really hard to get into it, but couldn’t because she has basically no character at all. 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, because everything starts again without any consequence. 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.
In the end 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 mixed in. 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.