Mother! is the type of self-aggrandizing piece of so-called “artistic filmmaking” that tries to get away with not having a message by claiming it’s on the audience to discover one.
There is nothing wrong with making a weird movie. There’s nothing wrong with making a movie that is there to be a piece of art and not much more. There is nothing wrong with making the kind of cerebral mind bend that makes over eager festival attendees lose their minds. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. But the thing that Mother! gets so wrong is that if you’re going to go with the kind of vague filmmaking that Aronofsky does, you need to have some sort of cohesive direction for what you’re trying to say.
Aronofsky throws a mishmash of supposedly profound ideas on screen and expects the audience to come up with whatever they can to validate the scenes. When you make a piece of art, you must have a specific vision in mind, at least. The fact that you can point to half a dozen theories about what allegory Mother! was trying to grasp and they are all valid (or none are, depending on who you ask) is not a failure of the audience. It’s a failure of the filmmaker.
To get into exactly what Mother! is would require a certain level of spoilers, which I will address later on in this review. But to begin, it’s a film of escalation until it gets to a point where it becomes grotesque and hard to watch. When people say this movie goes completely insane by the end, that is being generous. However, that insanity comes across as incredibly empty, shocking simply for shock value.
We see horrible things such as long-term psychological abuse, spousal rape, and cannibalism. If there was a clear point behind all of this, you might be able to justify having to watch it, but there isn’t one. It’s baffling, disengaging escalation, and by the time all hell breaks loose, you’ve just kind of tuned out. Why would you be engaged in any of this when it’s near-impossible to decipher what Aronofsky is trying to say?
This is ignoring all of the problematic aspects of the entire production. This is where we’re going to address the various allegories that people are clinging to to try and explain this movie. If you don’t want to know anything about it, then just skip the following paragraph.
Thus far, several readings have popped up online. Some of them say it is an allegory for human abuse of Mother Earth, with various characters standing in for biblical references. There is a reading that it’s just a straight telling of the coming of Jesus and destruction of Earth. There is the reading that it’s an allegory for the creation of art and the artist becoming a slave to success. It could be following the idea of addiction and how it creates and destroys. All of these are valid — which makes none of them valid — but they all come with the same misogynistic overtone that it’s a woman’s job to be there for a man. She is there to give all of her love even at the expense of pieces of herself — and even her own life. As the camera pans lovingly over yet another horrible thing happening to the mother of the title, you cannot ignore the sense that someone is probably enjoying this for the wrong reasons. It gets even worse when you find out that star Jennifer Lawrence is dating Aronofsky.
Mother! is a movie that’s going to make the day of several film students looking to find something to write about for their thesis. But for everyone else, it is a fundamental waste of time. Aronofsky can do better — he has done better — and this feels like the kind of film made by a person who didn’t have anyone trying to bring his ego back down to Earth. It’s boring, it’s pretentious, and absolutely not worth your time or money.
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