Sometimes I’ll revisit previous posts because comments or other conversations will spark something new or interesting to say. In this post, I revisit Mother! (Warning: a ton of spoilers lie ahead.) Despite all the discussion surrounding this controversial film, it’s actually pretty easy to find something new to say about it. This movie – as messy and dissolute as it may be – is rich with possibility. It continues to inspire all kinds of analysis and interpretation, including from the writer/director himself – a highly unusual thing to happen.
Sam Adams in Slate actually chastises director Darren Aronofsky for explicating his own film – which Aronofsky describes as an environmental allegory – and most people will probably agree that Aronofsky and his movie would be better off if he preserved the aura of mystery and just kept quiet. Artists usually know better than to spoil the fun, especially if their work is so richly evocative, and as controversial, as Mother!
“Truly outstanding artists are gifted at ruthlessly manipulating their audience, and this is clearly the case with Mother!”
This film can sustain any number of interpretations, which is what caused me to shrug off my own analysis in my Mother! post. I really wasn’t all that interested in finding meaning. I still believe that the single controlling theme of the movie is the creative process itself. No allegory, of all those interesting allegories suggested by various critics and by the director himself, works consistently — but I think the idea of creative process subsumes them all quite nicely. Still — far more interesting than what people think about Mother! is how we feel about it.
I’ve always been interested in the intimate relationship between artist and consumer, and this movie is a perfect vehicle for that kind of exploration. I’ve written before in this blog about how truly outstanding artists are gifted at ruthlessly manipulating their audience, and this is clearly the case with Mother!
Take a look at its most viciously maligned scene — wherein the crazed mob eats the baby. Here the director carefully cultivates audience reaction: note the preternatural tenderness of Jennifer Lawrence’s feeding and nurturing of her baby, her prolonged, agonized attempt to save it from the hungry, angry mob. What a shock when we actually hear the infant’s neck go crunch, then immediately see its pitiful remains on the table, looking like a picked-over Thanksgiving turkey!
“First we laugh, then we cry, then we’re shocked, then we question everything we just saw.”
But is that really what we see, what we hear? It’s not a particularly graphic scene — our imaginations are required to complete the missing pieces, and we eagerly play into the director’s sly hands without even thinking about it.
Something similar happens with the mass-execution scene. Most people I’ve talked to about the movie are less upset about the baby-eating scene than about the fact that I found the growing chaos of the unwelcome house party funny. I assume they’re dismayed not because of the smashing of all the lovely things, but because the chaos leads to such disturbing images as swat teams, black helicopters, and the cold-blooded executions of prone, anonymous, hooded figures.
But who, or what, lies beneath those burlap bags that Kristen Wiig shoots so coolly with her pistol? Is that actually spattering blood we see, or Benjamin Moore bull’s eye red? The house is full of vats and jars and cans of paint – “All these people – they’re painting our house!” Jennifer Lawrence wails. So are we looking at fake blood or real paint? — a question that, of course, only reminds us: it’s only a movie! It’s all fake! No matter what — yes, that is, indeed, paint. No need to stress out, although consumers of this movie, on cue, have so beautifully done exactly that.
So if you’re degenerately laughing at the growing chaos, maybe this is the appropriate time to start feeling a little bewildered. Theoretically, this is all still very funny — the concept of a painstaking, artistically executed renovation gone bad, really bad. But what are we supposed to be thinking? Should we be taking cues at all from this wayward filmmaker?
First we laugh, then we cry, then we’re shocked, then we question everything we just saw. Dazed and confused, mentally staggering around, I’m thinking maybe the joke’s on me. Maybe I’m the only real casualty. By the time I see Jennifer Lawrence brutally, graphically beaten — and this may be the scene that people should be feeling outraged about — I’m just confused.
So how did I feel about this movie, in the end? Well . . . I found the cannibalism scene only slightly off-putting – because, first of all, some very naughty reviewer had already spoiled the ending for me, and second, because I was so into that marvelous crescendoing of chaos thing. Mostly, I admit, I found the movie pretty delightfully funny (though maybe not as delightful as watching Michelle Pfeiffer blow away her dialogue).
The biggest delight about this movie, though, has been its aftermath – a movie critic’s dream of discussion, outrage, raw emotion, and intellectual gamesmanship. It reminds me once again of why I write this blog – for the sheer, glorious fun of it. After a bit more consideration, I’d say: Five stars for this deliciously shocking mess of a film.