Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Review: 'Mother!' (2017) directed by Darren Aronofsky

Mother! reviewed by David James

Rating: 5 Stars

It was somewhere in the middle of the third act that I realised that Mother! is not going to be financially successful. Darren Aronofsky is no stranger to weird film-making, the excellent Noah primarily baffling audiences and his criminally over-looked The Fountain vanishing without a trace. But Mother! might be one of the craziest films ever to get a major release.

Watching the trailer after seeing the full feature, you realise that Aronofsky has executed a cinematic sucker punch, reeling in the audience with the promise of a sleek psychological horror studded with A-listers and then hitting the gas and careening straight into crazytown. What audiences actually receive (and there's going to be heavy spoilers from here on out) is a movie that hates God and Christianity, arguing that it has warped humanity into something monstrous and that institutionalised religion has poisoned the world.

To achieve this, Aronofsky reworks the Bible into a creepy domestic drama. The world is reduced to an isolated house, occupied only by a frustrated poet God (Javier Bardem) and a female personification of Gaia, Mother (Jennifer Lawrence). Their relative peace is disturbed by the arrival of the first man (Ed Harris), who moves in uninvited and quickly makes himself at home.

Soon after we see him with a suspiciously rib-shaped wound in his side, his wife (Michelle Pfieffer) shows up: a similarly destructive presence who alienates and scares Gaia, culminating in the pair plucking the forbidden fruit, incurring God's wrath and being kicked out of Eden. 

Soon after, Cain and Abel arrive and commit the first murder, leaving behind an indelible stain of violence that gradually corrodes the whole world. We descend into a nightmare house party that's only ended with a cataclysmic flood that drives the uninvited guests from the house. It is not in the least bit subtle, but then subtlety is highly over-rated.

The film concludes with one of the most insane sequences I've seen in cinema. Mother gives birth to the infant Jesus, who is soon snatched from her grasp by God and delivered to a crazed mob, who pointlessly kill it and then devour the corpse in a demented cannibal nightmare. The West is culturally inoculated against how freakin' weird Christianity is, but this violently strips all the liturgical mystery away and (exactly as the Catholic Church does) takes the Bible at its literal flesh-munchin', blood drinkin', word. 

At this point, it's understandable at this point why audiences have rejected Mother! so violently. After all, your average moviegoer is probably not up for seeing a newborn baby being torn apart and eaten by psychos. But this imagery and these ideas comprise the core of our culture and Aronofsky makes a persuasive argument that the ecological destruction that threatens our very civilisation is a symptom of it.

As the film accelerates towards its apocalyptic conclusion, we finally understand the relationship between the patriarchal God and the feminine Mother as a theological separation of Creator from 'creature': institutionalised religion providing the philosophical framework upon which nature is brutally subjugated to man's will. 

Aronofsky is frantically yelling that humanity is on the precipice of catastrophe and chaos, trapped in a cycle of narcissism and consumption and poisoned by false dreams of spirituality and immortality. The only possible conclusion to all this comes in cleansing waves of fire: Mother Nature's reset button.

It's light years beyond its cinematic contemporaries (it's also objectively a technical marvel) and once the dumb-ass reactionary negativity dies down, is going to be recognised as a modern classic (at which point certain people will claim to have secretly liked it all along). Honestly, if you have the slightest interest in cinema as an art form you owe it to yourself to see this: films like this simply do not come along very often.

Right now the world feels like a chaotic, scary place with a real 'last days of Rome' vibe. Watching Mother! isn't going to get rid of those sleepless nights you've been having, but it will provide the context for them. 

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