Sunday, September 17, 2017

Mother! Is Mighty Interesting But Also Mightily Plagued By Pacing Problems (MASSIVE SPOILERS WITHIN)


Darren Aronofsky's boldness as a director has led to him never holding back in his stories, he's a guy who goes all in no matter what. Some may have just told the story of Noah's Ark in conventional terms but when Aronofsky was tasked with making a modern day movie about such a tale, he incorporated rock monsters and psychological thriller elements to make it something new and exciting. Does this tendency to go-for-broke always work? No, as one can see in his lesser efforts like Pi or Black Swan,  but his best movies like The Fountain and The Wrestler do signal that this specific approach can result in something special.

I wish his newest directorial effort, Mother! was one of his movies that worked better overall because its best moments do stick in your mind and serve as trademark depictions of the sort of pervasive audacity in Aronofsky's work that I like so much. Basically, this is one of those motion pictures I really really really wanted to like more than I do even if it ends up still being a decent and admirably ambitious effort. But it's one of those stories whose ending is far more impressive than what came before it. If the climax of Mother! is some grade-A nuttiness, the sequences that precede it are primarily well-acted but too often unengaging.

The premise of the film itself is nebulously defined as the movie starts out. Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem play unnamed individuals residing in a house in the countryside that Lawrence's character is renovating while Bardem's character works on a new book. One night, an unknown man played by Ed Harris shows up at their house mistaking it for a Bed & Breakfast. Then this guy's wife (played by Michelle Pfieffer) shows up. These two bring more and more people with them that begin to destroy Lawrence's house. Once all of these people finally leave, she and Bardem reconcile and have a baby, only for a horde of fans of Bardem's characters new book to show up the night Lawrence's character is due to give birth. This is when the craziness ensues as their home becomes a madhouse where murders, barbed wire and all kinds of chaos so powerful emerge that not even a SWAT team can bring it down.

The lack of concrete character names and the stories loose grip on reality makes it clear Mother! is meant to primarily be an allegorical piece but one whose underlying meanings I personally didn't quite grasp but the climactic scene where Jennifer Lawrence is brutally beaten up by anonymous fans of Javier Bardem's work made my own interpretation for this movie click for me...Mother! is about fandom in he internet age. Javier Bardem's character is obsessed with letting in random strangers who are fans of his book into his house, just like how in real life famous people invite complete strangers that love their work into their own lives via social media. Bardem becomes infatuated with these people and their admiration of him while ignoring his wife who cares about him, an allegory for how becoming obsessed with more superficial aspects of being loved by strangers on social media via how many you likes/retweets you get can leave you eschewing more intimate real-life relationships. And finally, when Jennifer Lawrence finally fights back and rightfully protests the violence these fans bring with them, she's tortured, humiliated and called demeaning names like "slut" and "whore" by a crowd of anonymous people angry any woman should dare try to speak up for her own rights as a person. 

Hmmm, doesn't that seem similar to how any woman who stands up to over controlling and self-entitled anonymous masses on the internet (or even just expresses an opinion) is doomed to endless harassment and even threats of violence by strangers who frequently insult such women with verbiage tied directly to their gender and/or sexuality? Now, doing the barest amount of research afterwards, it appears my interpretation of Mother! is not the one the filmmakers intended audiences to walk away from. Actually, this is meant to be Darren Aronofsky's third film to explicitly tackle religion (following The Fountain and Noah) with Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem serving as symbols of Mother Nature and God respectively, while Ed Harris and Michelle Pfieffer are symbols of Adam & Eve (they even go and touch something this movies version of God told them not to touch with disastrous consequences while Adam seems to be missing part of his ribcage) and their sons, one of whom kills the other, are stand-ins for Cain & Abel.

That's an intriguing notion to tackle the film with and I wish Mother! had either maybe dived into those theological stand-ins on a deeper level beyond just surface level references or at least had had the courtesy to litter the entire film with entertaining overtly bizarre imagery (though we do get to see a human heart clog up a toilet early on), since the first two acts of Mother! are kind of a...drag feels like too such strong of a word but they do suffer from major pacing issues. Making the characters specifically just stand-ins for larger theological ideas isn't a bad idea but since a large chunk of the movie is centered on dialogue-heavy conversations with various characters don't have much substance to them beyond what they're supposed to be allegories for, the movie just gets repetitive when it should be imbuing the viewer with unease at what's to potentially come. 

Too much of Mother! is preoccupied with humdrum foreplay that, even with a gonzo third act to close out the proceedings, feels like not enough pay given how much predominately uninteresting build-up there is to shift through. The more repetitive nature of the early sequences that lack too heavily in either thrills or characterization or even just interesting visual depictions of specific allegories leaves characters like the ones played by Harris and Pfieffer feeling undercooked ldespite having two great actors on hand whose sole direction it seems was to go as delightfully broad with their performances as possible. One consistent bright spot through the whole movie has to be Jennifer Lawrence who turns in a great performance that depicts her characters gradually escalating sense of frustration at the growing number of inhabitants in her house in a fascinating manner. It's probably one of her strongest roles and a reminder of how that lady from The Beaver, X-Men: First Class, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle really is an exceptional talent. 

Meanwhile, Darren Aronofsky also equips himself well behind the camera for Mother!, particularly in the climax where everything goes to hell and his camera's unwavering depiction of all the horrors Jennifer Lawrence's character is witnessing makes it clear that Aronofsky wants to make La Dolce Vita look like MegaMind in terms of on-screen depictions of human beings doing immoral things. It's a bold as hell finale to a motion picture that I can't help but wish could have spared some of that memorable gusto to the more generic sequences that preceded it and make up too much of the overall film? No denying the audaciousness of Mother! though and at least Jennifer Lawrence gives it her all in a terrific lead performance.

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