MOTHER! Review: 5 out of 10 (A Parable Plight)
Churches use all sorts of ploys to get butts in the seats. From parking lot cookouts, bounce houses for the kids, free child care, counseling services, and this time of year, the fall "Trunk-or-Treat" festivals. All are just ways of getting new potential members in the doors so they can get the "message" from their pulpits. MOTHER! ironically follows a very similar pathway--cashing in on a horror movie marketing strategy and some bankable stars--all in an effort to rick-roll an audience into being browbeaten with an overwrought parable from the dementia of Darren Aronofsky. And though there are some who might appreciate the performances while others might laud the artistic vision of the director, this is a movie that lands with a proverbial thud. Ha--PROVERBial. Yeah, the movie is about as subtle as that joke.
MOTHER! stars Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer in an allegorical take on religion that seems at once Aronofsky's love letter to Christendom while alternately coming across like a troll rant on a Reddit religion page. Aronofsky has a beautiful color palette that informs the film throughout and Jennifer Lawrence turns in a remarkable performance that is (figuratively and literally) at the center of the film. Aronofsky swirls and twirls his camera around Lawrence's character, allowing the audience to see the world as she sees it. And this single setting world is little more than an absurdist fevered dream of the fall of man. And that is no spoiler since anyone who spent more than two weeks in Sunday School as a kid will figure that out about 15 minutes in. All of the Biblical analogies here are dreadfully on-the-nose and leave very little to symbolism or interpretation. For those that might want to argue of all the vast troves of religious critical study that might be found in MOTHER!, thinking there is so much more to discover...
There isn't. There is less. Quite a bit less. Aronofsky himself agrees. Here is his take in an interview on MOTHER!: "if you try to unscrew it, it kind of falls apart...it’s a psychological freak-out. You shouldn’t over-explain it." --The Guardian 9/2017
INDEED. Truer words have not been spoken.
Misogyny and the Christian faith walk are also common bedfellows--and this film offers it in buckets. Lawrence here represents all sorts of cruelties that society visits upon women. From micro-aggressions, shame, contempt, condescension, and outright violence, the film becomes a cruel watch at times and might be triggering for some in the audience. The exclamation point in MOTHER! might well be in Christianity's exploitation and oppression of women in its history--and Aronofsky has his hand on the church bell rope, clanging out that message.
This is clearly a personal piece for Aronofsky, made even more personal when you realize he is dating Jennifer Lawrence. Perhaps some of the ideas here in the process of creation, criticism, and destruction might be left for some to offer a more personal take on the film's embedded cyclical message. In the end, MOTHER! is a sort of experimental film that might be thought-provoking for some, artistically challenging for others, and likely far too clumsy for most. Film students will love it and audiences will hate it. Everyone else--Your Mileage May Vary.