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Movie Review: 'Mother!'

Darren Aronofsky's sexist act of self-pleasure.

By Sean PatrickPublished 7 years ago 4 min read

I can’t decide if Mother(!) is Darren Aronofsky’s way of pleasuring himself on screen or if it is a legitimate work of art simply out of the grasp of my pea brain. The film has some seemingly obvious metaphors but they are metaphors that are so blatant that your brain fights the idea that they could be so simple to untangle. At least we can all agree that Mother(!) is a pretentious as all get out work of an egotist artist who’s either far too oblique for his own good or a complete troll.

Mother(!) is the title character played by Jennifer Lawrence who opens the film completely engulfed in flames before waking up in bed. Was it a dream? Stick around, the movie has a little something for you on that later. Mother and her writer husband, played by Javier Bardem, are living in an idyllic old home that has been recovered from a fire. This unique home sits in the middle of a field or perhaps a ‘garden,’ one might call it Eden-like.

The idyll of their country home is upended by the arrival of a snake-like gentleman, played by a skinny, leathery, Ed Harris, who claims to be one of the Husband’s biggest fans. Considering there is no place to stay for miles around they allow the man to spend the night. Then the next day his wife arrives played by Michelle Pfeiffer followed by their warring children played by Domnhall and Brian Gleeson who set about acting out a version of Cane and Abel inside these strangers’ home.

This portion of the film ends with a funeral and a finale in which Mother accuses her husband of not wanting to have sex with her to which he replies with what begins as attempted rape and then becomes a brief sex scene leading to a bizarre reveal and an even more bizarre final act of the film that I will leave you to discover on your own. The portentousness of the reveal is kind of fun and exciting but that pay off was a deal breaker for me, I was pretty much done with Mother(!) at this point and there was still a whole act of full on madness to come.

The lead up to the sex scene in Mother(!) basically states that a woman who is angry or unhappy with her husband to the point where she’s ready to leave him can be satisfied with a good sexing. This, to me, is such a gross and simplistic notion, so remarkably, ludicrously sexist that it seems like a provocation just to get that accusation. Unfortunately, Mother (!) doesn’t offer any rebuttal to this idea. Lawrence’s Mother is ready to leave her husband for not loving her, he attempts to take her by force, she eventually acquiesces because his forcefulness is a turn-on and the movie moves on. There is no attempt to satirize this notion, it is merely presented and that, for me, knocked me out of the movie.

From that point on, the ever increasing insanity on screen didn’t matter to me, I just wanted this silly bit of misogyny to be over with. I spent the rest of the film pondering what Darren Aronofsky actually thinks of women. I am aware that he is in a relationship with his leading lady Jennifer Lawrence but I hope he regards her with more respect than he gives to the character of Mother. Like Jennifer Connelly’s heroin addict in Requiem for a Dream or Natalie Portman’s ballet dancer in Black Swan, Lawrence’s Mother is waifish, weary and constant beat about by the world. Sure, Michelle Pfeiffer is on hand as a female character with some seeming agency but the movie isn’t about her.

Putting aside the sexism, Mother(!) is a film that can be read in a number of ways. One way is as a lame biblical allegory or a satire, depending on your perspective. In this reading, Javier Bardem is God, Jennifer Lawrence is his creation and the encroaching outside world is humanity beginning to rage out of control until something horrible happens and the world must be fully remade. In this reading, I genuinely have no idea if Aronofsky is being a right wing Christian scold or a parody of the same.

The imagery of Mother(!) is undeniably compelling. Darren Aronofsky and his cinematographer Matthew Libatique do an incredible job of amping up tension and keeping the audience anxious and edgy. The film is shot in a lot tight close ups as if we were riding in one of those baby backpacks that people strap to their chests to carry babies without having to hold them. We are constantly at Jennifer Lawrence’s eye level or turned toward something or someone that is at her eye level.

Then the film employs very quick cuts without typical establishing shots meaning we never get a sense of any room we are in beyond what Jennifer Lawrence can see. It’s an unquestionably interesting way to make a movie. Everything about the way the movie is made defies convention and this experiment is way more interesting than any of the ideas the movie may or may not intend to get across. The filmmaking deserves a better movie.

Unfortunately, the movie we get is far too muddled and self-serious for us to actually suss out any actual meaning. Is Mother(!) a religious allegory or a religious satire? Is the film actually religious at all? Is the film an allegory for filmmaking itself which some have posited with the baby in the movie representing the work of an artist and that babies' fate being in the hands of bloodthirsty critics. That we can read and interpret the film in any of a dozen different ways means that the film, arguably means nothing at all and was merely an act of self-pleasure from a director growing ever more worryingly self-involved.


About the Creator

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast I am a voting member of the Critics Choice Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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