Tuesday, December 26, 2017

mother!

By Sati. Tuesday, December 26, 2017 , , , , , , ,
(spoilers!!!)

During an interview with Indiewire, Aronofsky explained the concept of the movie: "Lawrence is Gaia, or Mother Earth, while her house represents the world -- a living, breathing organism being destroyed by its inhabitants. Her husband, known as 'Him' in the film, is God. Out of boredom, he creates Adam and Eve (the couple), who proceed to destroy both Gaia's creation and His study (the Garden of Eden), which holds God's perfect crystal (the apple). Their quarrelling sons are Cain and Abel. They also bring worshipers to praise God, who keep sitting on mother's unsupported sink, and eventually, cause the pipes to burst into a 'Great Flood'. God impregnates mother, who gives birth to the Messiah -- a chaotic sequence followed by a disquieting communion and Revelations."

The problem with Darren Aronofsky and his films is that he is a fantastic director but he is not the greatest writer. He is certainly ambitious but whenever he writes the script himself, his ambition exceeds his talent. Aronofsky's finest movies - Black Swan (nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Director) and The Wrestler (Golden Lion in Venice) are simple stories Aronofsky didn't write himself. It's when Aronofsky writes the scripts, the things get bumpy.
They were with The Fountain that I personally loved but one can certainly see how it's a story that needed more polishing. And unlike with Black Swan and The Wrestler there is no restraint and no withholding the judgment of the characters we are watching where it comes to Requiem for a Dream, an exercise that is an assault on senses, but still an effective one, because it is so rooted in our world and the characters there still feel like real people.

And that is where the problems with mother! begin. The film is simultaneously underwritten and overstuffed. It is underwritten when it comes to characters - the walking, talking metaphors for not just one but many things in this mostly allegorical story. And that would all be fine except there are parts of the the story where Aronofsky clearly wants us and expects us to feel for some of the characters, particularly the titular mother. The problem is you cannot have it both ways - you cannot have a character trapped in the house simply because it fits your metaphor and a character the audience is supposed to care for. How can we care for a pregnant woman who remains in the house, even though the door is right there and the only thing preventing her from saving herself and her baby is the director's goal? It's too disjointed, it's too outlandish, it's too bizarre, to make you care.
Which leaves the movie to be something to admire. When it comes to writing, it certainly isn't. The film is a colossal mess. The biggest problem is that its two halves are so drastically different. Thematically it all fits as biblical metaphor. But it doesn't fit at all when it comes to the structure. It starts with a somewhat sane balance of the traditional story and metaphors but the longer it goes, the less method there is to this madness. When Harris's and Pfeiffer's characters are around we are dealing with something that could easily happen. But as soon as they leave the film veers into completely insane territory where the mother suddenly knows she is pregnant, the guests arrive and start tearing the house down with her husband being delighted by it and then there is even supernatural element thrown in with Lawrence's screams having the power to wreak the floor she is laying on.

What doesn't help is that there are things here that, at least to me after seeing this film once, don't make any sense. I can see why when mother touches the walls she "sees" the house's beating heart that is decaying. But what is up with some sort of an organ being in the toilet? And what was that drink she kept drinking up until she magically knew she was pregnant?
The whole thing made me think if the way Aronofsky wrote that - apparently it took him 5 days for the first draft and the most shocking thing here is that there was actually second draft - was him dropping some acid, looking around the room, noticing the copy of the Bible on the shelf and just writing down whatever came to his mind.

And that would still be fine except the film isn't just him illustrating biblical stories. There is also a commentary here about the writer's ego, the way the artists abuse their muses, the fanatical devotion of the fans AND an analogy to how the humanity treats the environment. It simply is too much. And one of Aronofsky's weaknesses as a writer is that he cannot stay detached, so all of it has a very preachy feel to it. Given that nothing Aronofsky says here is new or particularly interesting it just comes off as him trying to look smart without actually having the intriguing observations to back it up. Add to that the fact that Aronofsky simply cannot stop talking about this movie, explaining it (even though it's really not that hard to understand) and he even says that Bardem's character has similarities to him and it's all just....quite pathetic.
One of the greatest things about Black Swan, which is still my favorite movie of all time, is that it is completely up to the viewer to decide what happens. Because Nina is present in every single scene and we watch everything from her perspective we can never know with certainty what really happened. I even wrote this about the movie and it holds up because there is nothing from another character's perspective that can disprove that. Up until few moments near the end mother! has that going for it too which would at least make it a fun movie to write theories about. But Aronfosky completely slaughters that potential.

First there is the penultimate scene with the crappy make up, even more on the nose metaphors and the fact it's completely unnecessary. where Bardem's character is revealed to be God and the focus shifts from Lawrence's character leaving Bardem's alone. And then there is a repeat of the scene from the beginning with yet another partner of Bardem's waking up, suggesting all of it is a loop. First of all, that scene is apparently (according to imdb trivia) a nod to Crimson Peak - if you are going to feature a nod to something does it really have to be to one to a recent, mediocre flick? Second of all, what is even Aronofsky saying here? Was this whole story some sort of sick game God is playing? And if we are going with Mother Nature metaphor and the whole film shows how destructive people are towards it, why does Aronofsky suggest all of this resets when the nature is destroyed? It just doesn't make much, if any, sense.
As for the film's "shocking content" - the amount of times they showed the close up of that baby was unbearable since I knew what was going to happen. Had I not seen Wind River's flashback it would be the worst thing I've seen in years. At least this was all grotesque, Wind River is painfully real. Also it's a MUCH better movie than...this.

Aronofsky for what he accomplishes here as a director - he manages to stage a war movie inside a house and this is something I have never seen before. The cinematography by Matthew Libatique, who also shot Black Swan, bears striking similarity to that movie with the camera always staying close to our protagonist. And Lawrence's innocent, confused and lost character and the way the actress plays her also brings Portman's Nina to mind.
I'm not a big fan of Lawrence, I find her off screen antics to be largely off putting and she is overrated with all the acclaim she won for American Hustle and Joy. That said, there is no denying she is talented. mother! features her best performance to date. The actress deserves praise for even doing that movie in the first place, one that rightfully upset people, and one where she had to appear in so many difficult scenes.

When you ask an actress of a performance like the one Lawrence delivers here you better have good writing or at least a well thought out idea of what you want your movie to be to back it up. Aronofsky clearly didn't have either of those. But she still gives it her all and is convincing in every second of it even when she is stuck between playing an underwritten character and the character we are supposed to feel for.
Harris and Pfeiffer deliver excellent support and the two Gleeson brothers are very good in their short screen scenes. And then there is Kristen Wiig in memorable and entertaining cameo. Javier Bardem on the other is just dreadful here, completely lost in this movie and overacting at every turn. Still, you cannot really fault any actors here, given what they were working with was so strange.

The movie certainly is unique and unlike anything else this year. Lawrence's performance is up there among the strongest of the year and the sound work as well as the production design in the film is outstanding with the house being, truthfully, better developed character than any of the people we are watching on the screen.
The problem with the film is that it's not even something worthy of all the outrage it provoked and the polarizing reviews it got. Some hailed it as masterpiece, some say it's the worst film of the year. The truth is that mother! falls somewhere in the middle - it's incredibly staged and Lawrence is terrific but the script is just a self-indulging mess. It's just not worthy of all that rage.

It's nowhere near as infuriating as the way Rian Johnson, who was given millions of dollars, so much talent, creative freedom and iconic franchise, treated The Last Jedi. It's nowhere near as enraging as what Warner Bros did with the first feature film about Justice League. It's nowhere near as baffling as some of The Snowman script not being shot. It's nowhere near as offensive as some of the misogynistic content of Kingsman 2, and, as already mentioned, nowhere near as disturbing as Wind River.

It simply is what it is. A mess.

mother! 
(2017, 121 min) 
Plot: A couple's relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writer: Darren Aronofsky
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris

23 comments:

  1. It is a messy film but still I think it's fun to watch. There were moments that were pretty funny for the wrong reasons which is why I liked it. I think this is part of a trilogy that Aronofsky is doing right now that was preceded with Noah and who knows what will happen with his next film as I'm sure it's going to be about faith.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In any case he is gonna have trouble securing decent budget now. Also considering how his faith movies are going I wish he moved away from those

      Delete
  2. That's a very solid review. It's impressive that you got to this conclusion by watching only once. I've watched for the second time yesterday because it was one of the few recent movies that i felt the need to. I am easily impressionable so i respect when somebody can keep their cool while watching a movie like that. It's easy to confuse you, but i have to agree, it is indeed, a mess. But i do think is more of a good than a bad mess. I admire Aronofsky's uniqueness and courage but i think this always comes with a bit of an ego, yet in this movie's case, i admire even more that he got to play a joke on himself and the artists, as seen in Bardem's character. I can see all the beauty and sadness of the, many in my opinion, stories he was trying to tell, but i agree with you, the way he deliveres it, is not the best. It's a bit disappointing because it could be great. Maybe he wanted too much in a story that is actually great in its simplicity. Still, it has made a positive impression on me, as much as positive means in a movie like this, which is unsettling. The only problem in my opinion is that the press affected the movie badly. I believe it was because they had a star like Lawrence on it, it had to be more commercial than it should. From the beginning, selling the movie wrongly, like a horror or something, and perhaps making Aronofsky talk more than he wanted to- i might be wrong of course but i really think it wasn't kind of his choice. I agree with your opinion on Lawrence's performance, she was incredible and truly touching here. I notice from the beginning that this was a love or hate movie, but not a flawless masterpiece or disaster like so many are calling. It was very nice to see such a sober review, you are an excellent writter! I apologize for my english though, it's not my native language! You made me see things i couldn't by myself, so again, congratulations!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well I cheated a little and read lots about the movie before watching it, I never care about reading spoilers and when I hear that the film has upsetting content I always try to know what we are talking about because I'm easily disturbed by scenes that are very graphic or suggestive

      My point about Aronofsky talking was because he kept talking about the film on his twitter, set up reddit account just to talk about it and even did two AMA on reddit/movies in a short period of time which honestly came off as quite desperate to me, especially that given the choices he made here - my point about the film breaking the point of view near the end - there really isn't that much to think about here.

      Your English is great and thanks so much for your kind words!

      Delete
  3. I hated Kristen Wiig in this. She managed to feel out of place in a film that was already a clusterfuck. But I liked this overall. I thought about it for weeks afterwards. It is a mess, like you said. But I appreciate the effort lol.

    The Last Jedi is even better on the 2nd viewing for me. lmao

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just stop with TLJ woman lol But I probably will see it again and fastforwad to Oscar's moments :)

      Delete
  4. "...he is a fantastic director but he is not the greatest writer." YES. Thank you for nailing it right there, because I couldn't put my finger on what exactly went wrong with this film. I didn't realize he wrote it. My favorite part of this movie was the disgruntled old lady next to me going "OH NO AH AH!" at every intense scene, then LEAVING the theater with 20 minutes left in the movie. I felt her pain, but I found it necessary to finish this mess after clocking in so much devoted time, you know?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah I always finish movies. Unless something insanely upsetting to me on personal level happens with the Lobster I just couldn't take the dog scene

      I almost left during flashback in Wind River but the movie was so good I stayed

      Delete
  5. I'm right there with you sati - while it seemed you had to either hate this movie or love it, I was just: meh, smack in the middle. it's about time for a second viewing though, will see how that goes down!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah it's just really nothing special, Aronofsky would probably throw a fit if he read that opinion :P

      Delete
  6. "was him dropping some acid, looking around the room, noticing the copy of the Bible on the shelf and just writing down whatever came to his mind."

    NOT the wisest choice!! Acid can kinda make you think everyone you write is AMAZING.

    I'd be willing to bet that if Darren wasn't such a colossal, impressive dickhead, I'd have reckoned you'd have bumped up the score =P Not by heaps, but his going about telling people how to interpret the film is idiotic. Fuck him, I am there for the -experience-. And this is certainly one helluva roller-coaster of an experience.

    And that is what this is. Screw subtlety. I'm not big into film metaphors so I couldn't give two tosses about that. I just dig the sheer insanity of the film, the final acts reminded me of the MENTAL final climax in in Req.

    I will concede that he is better when he isn't the writer. Tho requiem will forever be one of my top five.

    Was hoping you'd enjoy this more!! I reckon its worth a rewatch just to purely focus on the intensity of it all, forgetting all of Darren's bullshit.

    This is def up there in my top five, possibly three. Divisive films are the ones I dig the most ;D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well not really because the story was just not very good. Filmmakers routinely do dumb stuff but if the film is good I overlooked that unless they are pigs like Von Trier. Still even with that I rated Melancholia very highly

      Delete
    2. I guess that is what I mean by it being an experience. There are holes everywhere, for suuuure, but I loved it as simply a tense, in your face experience that just seemed to get more and more insane. Kinda like Requiem. I guess sometimes I don't really need a good story to dig a film if the experience is that full-on, cos I love to throw myself into a film and be totally immersed

      Delete
  7. Thanks for the review. I think you cheated yourself by reading lots beforehand :) The puzzle, mystery and surprises are big part of what this movie experience is about.

    As you say, it's a bit gimmicky, and the substance is nothing new(apparently Woody Allen's 1980 film Stardust Memories about the burdens of fame has similar aspects).
    Yet Mother! was interesting/entertaining going in blind. I'm okay with poetic license in horror genre, doesn't have to make sense for me to enjoy :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If the movie cannot interest me once I know the twist and the story then it is not much of a movie and not much of a story.

      Especially that really nothing here is particularly surprising once the fans start tearing the house down

      Stardust Memories is a great movie. This isn't.

      Delete
  8. Great review! I can't agree more about how much of a mess this movie is. Given how the metaphors are so on the nose, I was a little disappointed it wasn't strictly more about mother nature. You can get the point of his ideas throughout, but the biblical references, muse/artist, etc. angles gunk up the story a lot. The cast is okay. Nobody really rose above the material for me except Domhnall Gleeson. I'm not a big fan of JLaw or understand the hype. Her performances always seem stuck in two modes - staring vacantly or screaming at the top of her lungs and not a whole lot of layers in between, but her commitment in this one was palpable. It's her best performance since Winter's Bone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Domnhall is consistently amazing. He was going ham like crazy in The Last Jedi but I can only assume he did the same thing I suspect Shannon was doing in Man of Steel - realized there is no salvaging this so he may as well just go crazy with the material :)

      Delete
  9. Black Swan is one of my favorite movies but this one was dreadful. I hated every single second of it. As you said, the writing is such a mess. There's no logic and too much stuff going on. On the other hand, Lawrence's performance was great and I really liked Domhnall Gleeson. Great review!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I really don't know what Aronofsky was on. Massive ego too to think he can just write any shit down and it will be enough to make a decent movie.

      Delete
  10. I think this movie is the definition of divisive. You and I seem to share the same sentiments about the movie. It had ideas and good work from Lawrence and Pfeiffer, but eventually got too bloated and esoteric.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah it's all just painfully mediocre.

      Delete
  11. You are such a fantastic writer Sati! I never even considered watching this, but now that I've read this, it's climbed to the top of my watchlist.

    I don't like Lawrence but I remember I (along with pretty much everyone for a bit there) used to adore her - this seems like a good way to remind myself why. Do you think she's gonna get an Oscar for this?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! Well it's a mediocre film but it's very well acted and directed. It's certainly unique

      Oh no :) The film is not accessible and so far it only made Razzie longlist :)

      Delete