“Mother!”: An allegory in flames by Darren Aronfosky
rated R by MPAA for strong disturbing violent content, some sexuality, nudity and language
“mother!” is an audacious downbeat allegory of Christian cosmogeny. In full-blown male auteur mode, Darren Arnofosky mocks a God-like blocked author who tears the very life-force out of his young wife to appease his worshipful, world-ravaging fans. Arnofosky interpolates a ballerina’s creative hell of “Black Swan” (2010) with his mystically fixated men from “Noah” (2014), “The Fountain” (2006) and “π” (1998).
Paramount Pictures publicizes Aronofsky’s seventh feature as a “psychological thriller,” “relationship thriller” and “a home invasion horror tale.” Allegory alert! None of the characters haveth names. Only one, the first listed in the credits, gets an upper-case first letter. Him (Javier Bardem) is getting nowhere on his next book, as mother (Jennifer Lawrence) finishes up rehabbing their three-story house.
It starts as a horror film. A montage of dissolving interior shots shows blackened ruins metamorphose from soot and cinders into bright rooms and hallways in color. This is where the couple live alone and where all of “mother!” is set. Childless mother awakes in bed and calls for her husband: “Baby?” Aronofsky inflects her opening scenes with horror tropes. The lovingly restored old place abounds with creaks and thunks. A circling camera at very close range personalizes her perspective. We immerse in her episodes: hearing high-pitched sounds, peering through walls to behold a beating heart, and dosing herself with yellow-powder from old vials.
The first knock at the door comes in the seventh minute. It’s man (Ed Harris). Says he’s new around here. An orthopedics prof looking for a B&B. Turns out he loves the words of Him and carries a Him photo that unsettles mother. “I’m a huge fan,” gushes man. “Your words have changed my life.” He spends the night. Next morning his wife, woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), knocks. Then their two grown sons show up. One kills the other over a will.
Blood seeps through a vagina-like crack in the floorboards, with supernatural consequences downstream in the basement where an oil-burning furnace fires up on its own. On mother’s last trip down there, fans of “The Hunger Games” may find offense in a Girl on Fire flashback. Recall that line by Jennifer Lawrence’s character: “I was just hoping I wouldn’t burn to death.”
At this point “mother!” has birthed a blackly absurdist comedy as mother is buffeted by family and friends of man, woman and their late son who barge in for a wake. Him accommodates an ever-growing influx of unwelcome visitors who are uncommonly inconsiderate of mother. They come to Him for autographs, souvenirs, blessings and ultimately a neonatal eucharist.
Aronofsky leapfrogs genres and lands in terra incognito. With blunt strokes he trespasses on incongruous religious themes found in Peter Greenaway’s 1993 provocation “The Baby of Macon” and Terrence Malick’s 2011 hymn “The Tree of Life.” This auteur boldly allegorizes creativity and Creation. His grandiloquent poet– we never see or hear a word he writes– is enthralled by His abjectly debased and world-despoiling readers. Aronofsky cynically eviscerates celebrity culture.
“mother!” imagines a monstrous cycle of life and nothingness. The last shot nearly replays the first, with foremother (Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse) turning over in bed for the last line: “Baby?” The film’s anonymous press notes quote the film’s writer-director on conceiving his film, with no muse in sight: “From this primordial soup of angst and helplessness I woke up one morning and this movie poured out of me… It is a mad time to be alive.” As evidenced, Aronofsky adds, by world population, migrants, politics, icebergs, meat-eating elites, and tourists killing “rare baby dolphins” for the sake of a selfie. “As a species… we live in a state of denial about the outlook for our planet and our place on it.”
On Jimmy Kimmel Live! this week Jennifer Lawrence said the film’s singular setting– an octagonal house in the country– stands for “Earth.” You may notice that it has no driveway. She also called Aronofsky’s film “biblical.” Only twice does her character utter a word along those lines. About her rehab project after the unexplained fire that incinerated the house where Him grew up, she explains to man: “I want to make a paradise, and I love the work.” In a later scene, once Him starts to write again, she excuses herself from his writing room: “I don’t want to interrupt. I’ll just get started on the apocalypse.”