I couldn’t make it out to see Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, last weekend, and it’s been difficult to avoid hearing about it in the meantime. Everybody has an opinion – even (unsurprisingly) people who haven’t even seen it. But general audiences rejected the film soundly, last weekend, which made me even more curious and anxious to see it.
Now that I have, I’ve been struggling with how to articulate my thoughts. I feel like saying almost anything about the story or character content of the film, itself, would be a betrayal of Aronofsky’s artistic intent. And, being someone who avoids spoiling films and who also respects filmmakers and their respective visions, that makes my job here difficult.
Something I can say is that I might be entirely off base regarding Aronofsky’s intent. Much like with other filmmakers of his type, such as David Lynch or Terrence Malick, Aronofsky’s films are always open to some degree of interpretation, so it’s possible that my interpretation is all wrong. But I don’t believe that my assessment of his intent is wrong. Aronofsky’s intent is to get his audience thinking. There’s no doubt about that. Where the problem lies with that specific intent is in the fact that most mainstream moviegoing audiences don’t want to think. They want everything spelled out for them. And in mother!, exactly nothing is spelled out for the audience.
So, that leads me to believe that this film is actually less open to interpretation than Aronofsky’s others. I think there is a specific way to interpret the film – only one correct interpretation with all others being flat-out wrong. The reason for my belief is the structure of the film. It is far too meticulous with precisely-worded dialogue, specific plot developments, and even particular casting choices. Literally every word, every shot, and every interaction contains meaning and holds weight. Every molecule of this film is a puzzle piece.
And this isn’t the same type of puzzle film that made me so angry in the form of last year’s The Neon Demon. Unlike that ego-trip of a disaster, mother! gives us all of the puzzle pieces so that the audience knows what it needs to know in order to see the bigger picture. The film also has a coherent surface narrative that can be followed without looking deeper into the film, which is what I was really angry about regarding The Neon Demon, since its surface narrative was nonsense. But, though comprehensible, mother!‘s surface story would be remarkably strange without considering what’s going on underneath. Aronofsky forces the audience to analyze the film or otherwise miss out on the overwhelming majority of the experience.
Make no mistake – this film is absolutely an experience. I won’t give any clues to the plot or the characters, but to give you an idea of what that experience is like, I’ll say that when I heard the film was like a nightmare, I thought people meant it figuratively, but it turns out they meant it literally. The pacing is exactly like a bad dream, where one bothersome event is immediately followed by another more bothersome event which is quickly followed by another and then another and another in such a way that they escalate in nature and in scale to an impossible degree. It’s like an illustration of the Butterfly Effect that grows exponentially so that one can’t even fathom how Point A could have possibly led to Point ZZZ, much less how it happened so quickly. There is absolutely no time to get bored during this movie; my attention and my brain were both fully engaged from the opening frame and the two hours flew by in what felt like 45 minutes.
I guess this is as good a time as any to squeeze in a mention of Jennifer Lawrence. While Lawrence is supported by very talented and esteemed actors (Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Harris) who all do great work, mother! is her film. And it may be her best work. I can’t even come close to comprehending how emotionally exhausting this role must have been for her (not to mention physically taxing). You know those bad days we all have? Those really bad days? Those days where maybe three or four intensely overwhelming and stressful things occur and we just can’t wait until we get to tomorrow? Imagine a day where those sorts of events happen every three minutes. All day. And imagine if you had to suffer through a full year of those days, with no respite. That’s what Jennifer Lawrence did for mother!. And I know, now that she’s super-successful, it no longer matters how down-to-earth or talented she is and that’s it’s currently in vogue to hate on her (all the kewl kids are doing it!), but she deserves recognition and respect for her performance in this film. She owns it and she earns it.
Aside from that, I am still fully processing the events of the film. I have a framework for what I believe Aronofsky intends to be the interpretation, but I’m still putting some of those puzzle pieces in their proper spots. To fully digest the story, I will have to see it again – probably multiple times. There’s just no way to completely crack Aronofsky’s code with only a single viewing. There’s too much going on and, by simply taking a second to step back and think about something that just happened, the viewer will miss out on the next clue. Multiple viewings are required for full understanding.
But that’s not a bad thing, is it? It doesn’t mean that the first viewing isn’t rewarding. It most certainly is. It simply means that every viewing will continue to be rewarding. Is that not something to which filmmakers should aspire?
Let’s talk about the audience reaction to this film. mother! is only the nineteenth film to receive an F Cinemascore from audiences, who were exit-polled on opening night. Look, I don’t care what people like and what they don’t like. Truthfully, that can’t be helped. We don’t actively choose our likes and dislikes. But what we do choose is how thoroughly and fairly we consider our words, our actions, and how much importance we place on our own opinions.
I loved mother!. I loved it. I want to be very clear about that. It’s one of my favorite films of the year and one of the best, as well. But, even if I didn’t like it, I would still maintain the capacity for appreciating it. I could appreciate the artistry. I could appreciate the thoughtfulness. I could appreciate the performances. I could appreciate these people literally suffering – physically and mentally – in their efforts to bring this story to us. And I would not take my personal opinion so seriously as to equate it with fact and to arrogantly presume that I held the right to casually dismiss someone else’s passion project, especially considering the pedigree and the credibility of the people behind said project.
So, why are general audiences hating the film? I can’t say for sure, but I have some theories. One, as I mentioned above, is that they don’t want to think. That theory has put itself on exhibition many times over the years, both within the world of film and without. Another theory is one I’ve already discussed in great detail: many of them are hypocrites who claim they want originality from Hollywood but reject it when it arrives (I ranted about that here). You truly want originality? Prove it. mother! is the most original film of the year. Go. Enjoy. Tell your friends.
The third theory is tied to the first. The third theory is that, in not desiring to think, audiences don’t. And, in making that choice, they take the film literally. There are many bizarre events that transpire in mother!. They aren’t only bizarre but they are often severely disturbing, as well. But if the brain is engaged, it’s obvious that there’s something else going on within the narrative and that things aren’t necessarily as they seem. Many viewers are taking the online mentality of reacting first and thinking never into the real world and it’s affecting other people’s work and their success. And it’s affecting other moviegoers, as well, because every time a film like this fails at the box office, it becomes less likely that we get more films in the same vein. These moviegoers are directly affecting people like me because they cant be bothered to show respect to a genuine piece of art.
Why do audiences disrespect film, so much? If a book is deep or thought-provoking, it’s heralded as a classic. When a musician such as Bob Dylan writes near impenetrable lyrics that most people can’t begin to interpret, audiences bow at his feet and he wins a Nobel Prize. When television carries true weight and intellect, it’s the talk of water coolers around the world and is considered must-watch. So, why is it when a film is deep and complex and outside-the-box, audiences shun it, laugh at it, and actively seek to sink it to the bottom of the celluloid sea?
As I left the theater, tonight, the guy in front of me turned back to me and said, “That was stupid.” What did I say? I said, “That was anything but stupid. That was amazing. There was so much thought and heart put into that that I’ll be thinking about it during my entire hour-long drive home.” “Well, it was amazing,” he said, “but I’ll also have to go home and read twelve articles on it in order to understand it.”
And, again, I ask . . . what the #$%& is wrong with that? Why is it so awful to think about something after it’s over? Why is it so horrible to have to reach out and interact with other people and discuss a piece of art in an effort to gain a full appreciation of the message behind it? Why is this a bad thing? Or, perhaps the more appropriate question would be: When did it become a bad thing?
I’ll say it again: I love mother!. That is my opinion. mother! is a genuine masterpiece and a work of art that is far superior to most other films that have been released in 2017. That is an objective fact that takes all the aspects and goals of filmmaking into account. This film will one day be viewed as a classic work of genius that was misunderstood by an undeserving audience in its day. By then, I will have seen it umpteen times and will be a better person for it. Those of you who are willing to expand your mind and grow a little bit, give mother! your money. It deserves it. For those who aren’t as willing, Despicable Me 3 is on blu-ray soon.
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