mother! (2017): men behaving badly (Part I)
mother! presents a quandary with no easy outcome, yet takes the “easy way out” at the expense of a nameless female character (Jennifer Lawrence) whose sole function is to suffer at the hands of an arrogant writer husband (Javier Bardem) and random interlopers who intrude on their isolated country villa.
Taking cues from Kubrick’s The Shining (an isolated setting and an hysterical housewife) and Polanski’s Repulsion (a woman’s distorted perception of reality), Aronofsky remains a confident and imaginative visual stylist. The action never leaves the interior of the house, and the camera never leaves Lawrence, sometimes spinning around her in a twisted merry-go-round that illustrates her sense of control going off the rails.
Ah, those visuals! Aronofsky’s ability to craft a pretty picture is beyond reproach – even when the images are repulsive or shocking, he makes them compelling. Much of mother!’s effect, especially as the film ramps up, is derived from the visceral and unexpected. Closed doors open to reveal random and startling images. Who are the people descending upon the house, why is Bardem so cavalierly accepting of them, and why does everyone seem to know something Lawrence doesn’t?
Well, that’s because they do. And to give it away would mean huge and infuriating spoilers.
In its final act, mother! aspires to an orgy of madness plucked from The Devils, Caligula, or any brazenly obscene excess-fest. Had Aronofsky plowed forward in this reckless direction, layering one jaw-dropping image atop another, his story might have achieved a pinnacle of career-best brilliance.
I like chaos and madness. Loved Tobe Hooper’s natural grasp of it – how The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ended jarringly mid-shot, as Leatherface brings down the ‘saw. There’s no epilogue; no closure; just the promise that the killers will live to kill another day, and our heroine is permanently scarred by what she’s witnessed.
Maybe we should all aspire to be like Bill Lee in Naked Lunch, when he summarizes his philosophy on life as, “exterminate all rational thought.”
In the end, mother! clings to convention in a story that’s couched in a guise of aesthetic edginess. Aronofsky is all too aware of the audio-visual strengths of his mad world, and thinks the conclusion is some profound coup de grace. It’s not. Accompanying the credits is the bitter aftertaste of a filmmaker who’s just shot his wad, hoping the propulsive camera and stunning visuals will distract critics enough to ignore the troubling things under the surface.
To be continued…