LIST CANDIDATE: MOTHER (2017)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, , Ed Harris, Brian Gleeson, , Kristen Wiig

PLOT: A poet with writer’s block and his younger wife live alone in a remote house until their domestic tranquility is interrupted by an ever-increasing number of guests.

Still from mother! (2017)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Writer/director Aronofsky lets the movie all go to hell—mother! is his most irrational and difficult film, and also his most provocative, with one scene that’s likely to send anyone with maternal instincts packing to the exits. It’s a Hollywood movie with an outsider’s boldness, and it’s going to be punished harshly at the box office for transgressing society’s norms—mostly by blaspheming against coherent realist narrative, the biggest taboo of all. Fans of this site will want to check it out in theaters if at all possible; whether you love it or find it a letdown, it’s a rare “event movie” in the weird genre.

COMMENTS: In its first week of release, the highly anticipated mother! has already been buried at the box office; and even though I have my reservations about the movie’s overall artistic success, let’s pause for a moment out of respect for a fallen brother (er, mother!) who dared to brave the multiplexes with a message of glorious excess, confused metaphor, baby abuse, and general cinematic dementia. Its birth was improbable, its life brief, and we may not see its like for many years.

The scenario is something like a ian joke mixed with paranoia, although the film develops its own crazy identity as it goes on. Wifey Jennifer Lawrence is dealing with a flood of unwanted guests who treat the home she’s trying to refurbish as a bed and breakfast; her husband, grateful for the distraction from his writer’s block, encourages them. It doesn’t help her shaky mental outlook that she’s chugging some sort of urine-colored alka selzer and hallucinating hearts clogging the toilet. Early on, mother! plays like a black comedy, with the audience laughing each time the doorbell rings and a new guest arrives. This black humor contrasts with ongoing gynecological horror imagery: a vaginal bloodstain on her hardwood floor, with the blood trickles tracing a Fallopian diagram on the walls of Jennifer’s womblike basement. The dreamlike flow of the first hour that quickly escalates into the nightmarish once a pregnancy arrives at the same time her poet husband publishes a poetry sensation that brings a horde of cultlike fans to their remote homestead. Over-the-top apocalyptic chaos follows, with a religious wrap-up that left some audience members scoffing out loud. Subtle and focused mother! ain’t; weird, it is.

mother! is susceptible to multiple interpretations, which may be a problem in a movie that appears to aspire to allegory rather than mystification. Apparently, Aronofsky intends the audience to read the film as an environmental parable about Mother Earth. But it can also be seen as a metaphor for fear of procreation (the strangers who sew chaos in the house act just like unruly children), and at the end it becomes a (heavy-handed) Christian allegory (with Lawrence as Mother Mary, paying an even heavier price for humanity’s sins than her son does). And all along, with its poet/God hero, it’s simultaneously playing as an allegory for the artist, and for the way the audience appropriates His work and gives it their own interpretation—yeah, there’s some heavy meta there.

mother! is already infamous for its divisiveness. It was booed by audiences at the Venice Film Festival and CinemaScore audiences gave it a rare “F” rating, while critics have graced it with generally favorable reviews (68% on Rotten Tomatoes at this time, through the usual dissenters are particularly hyperbolic). 2009’s Antichrist (which also refused to give its parent protagonists proper names) may have been the last movie to create a big a chasm between those championing a film as an audacious triumph and those dismissing it as pretentious twaddle. One thing is for sure: simply dropping a superstar like Lawrence into your surrealist movie won’t make mainstream audiences embrace its uncomfortable weirdness. But J-Law should earn a lot of artistic credibility and respect from a role that was quite a bit riskier than ‘s relatively sane and reserved turn in Black Swan.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Its dread has no resonance; it’s a hermetically sealed creep-out that turns into a fake-trippy experience. By all means, go to ‘mother!’ and enjoy its roller-coaster-of-weird exhibitionism. But be afraid, very afraid, only if you’re hoping to see a movie that’s as honestly disquieting as it is showy.”–Owen Gleiberman, Variety (contemporaneous)

8 thoughts on “LIST CANDIDATE: MOTHER (2017)”

  1. The latest chapter in DARREN ARONOFSKY’S FUCKED-UP FABLES FOR FUCKED-UP PEOPLE where, in addition to the Bunel & Polanski influences/homages, he attempts to out-Trier Lars VonTrier.

  2. I’d say just put it on the list now. It doesn’t get much stranger than this movie when it comes to modern mainstream cinema. I’d personally label it as a must see. Nit because everyone’s going to love it. But because its going to spark conversation between most people that have seen it.

  3. I’m also surprised this one didn’t go straight into the list. It’s high profile, infuriates movie-goers used to mainstream film, has excellent technical qualities and completely uncompromising in its following of its central premise. I do think in years to come many casual filmgoers will still be remembering it as the “weird disturbing film with Jennifer Lawrence” they once saw.

    The one thing that counts against its weirdness is that I found the allegory to be very clear, with many things having a one-to-one correspondence with biblical text, but even there, there’s lot of room for interpretation: the yellow alka-seltzer, the frog released from the basement door, even the baby Mother gives birth to could represent multiple things.

  4. I went to see it last night with my girlfriend. She hated it. The only other person in the theater was an old lady. I assume she thought it was a lighthearted movie about somebody’s mother. She walked out well before it was over. I think it’s impressive when a movie causes walkouts not because of graphic violence or sex scenes, but because of the bizarre tone of the movie. Personally, when my girlfriend asked me what I thought about it when it was over, my initial response was “it was bad.” But I can’t stop thinking about the film since I saw it, and it was really quite an experience.

  5. I’m really glad for your first paragraph in Comments, Gregory, because it really is so rare to have a film like this, regardless of what one thinks about it. It’s amazing that it got made.

    I love how the movie takes man’s selfishness (“Him” with an uppercase H, as listed in the film credits) and a woman’s selflessness (“mother”) to extremes. For me, the experience was all about how far Aronofsky was willing to go, and he didn’t disappoint.

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