Because I have been away for a while, and at the risk of sounding defensive, before we go any further, let me re-establish my bona fides. I love movies. Period. Whether or not those movies confirm with my worldview, moral or political, makes me no nevermind. Alternately, I do not automatically gush over the rare movie aimed at Christians or conservatives. The movie is the thing. It either works as art, or it does not.
Mother! writer/director Darren Aronofsky has attacked my Faith before, and I gave him a rave. Mother! star Jennifer Lawrence came out as a bigoted jerk years ago, and I gave her a rave. Here is my countdown of the 25 Greatest Leftwing Movies Ever Made. Here is my review of Steven Soderbergh’s Che, my first ever at Breitbart, I gave it a rave.
We all good now?
Many will interpret mother! (the lowercase is intentional for some obnoxious reason) in their own way. The following is my interpretation, which I am confident is the only interpretation. I may have missed a few small things, but this is what mother! is really about…
No one is called by name. It is only through the credits that we learn that Jennifer Lawrence is “Mother” and Javier Bardem is “Him.” The truth, however, is that Lawrence is Mother Earth (or Gaia) and Bardem is the Christian God.
The entire story takes place within a large country home set in the middle of an idyllic field. Mother and Him are married. He is a mercurial self-involved writer currently unable to create. She is a loving, supportive homemaker creating a paradise for the two of them. She cooks, she cleans, she wants a child, and she spends her days lovingly refurbishing a house that had been lost in a fire.
This is when Man shows up in the form of Ed Harris. Man lies his way into the house. Mother wants him out. Him is glad for the company, anything that will distract from the chronic writer’s block. Man’s passive-aggressiveness immediately disrupts this once-peaceful paradise, and Mother cannot understand why Him is so tolerant of the stranger. Nevertheless, Him invites Man to live with them. The very next day Man’s wife arrives, Woman, in the sexy, pushy, seen-it-all-form of Michelle Pfeiffer (by far the best thing in the movie.)
After Man and Woman break the only house rule (take a bite from the apple), Him finally joins forces with Mother to kick them out of the house (expel them from paradise). This is when Oldest Son and Younger Brother arrive arguing bitterly over their dying father’s estate. One son kills the other, and, well, you get the idea. Harris and Pfeiffer are Adam and Eve (there is even a reference to rib removal) and the sons are Cain and Abel.
Fast-forwarding a bit…
Peace has finally returned to the home and the news that Mother is pregnant finally puts an end to Him’s writer’s block. The imminent birth of their son coincides with Him finishing his book, a masterpiece (the Bible), that inspires countless fans (worshipers) to flock to Him — awful people, an unwelcome mob, a selfish, intrusive mass of humanity who fill (over-populate) Mother’s beautiful home (the Earth) and tear it apart while destroying the water supply and selfishly gobbling up all the food (resources).
Locked in a room away from the mayhem taking place throughout the rest of the house, Mother gives birth to a son. Him wants to show his wild-eyed horde of fans the newborn. Sensing danger, she refuses. In the movie’s best sequence, Him patiently waits for Mother to fall asleep. In the movie’s most hideous sequence, before Mother knows what is happening, her baby (Jesus) has been sacrificed (crucified) by Him’s fans (worshippers) and then they consume the baby (the Sacrament).
From here, paradise is completely destroyed by Him’s fans (worshippers) as wars, riots, and the entire historical spectrum of man’s inhumanity to man plays out in Mother’s country home. All that remains is the Apocalypse, which arrives via oil.
The biggest problem with mother! is not that it is anti-human or anti-Christian (which it stridently is). Overall, Arnofsky has come up with an intriguing allegory, and he certainly has something to say, which makes for the best horror films.
The problem is the execution, which fails completely to create the claustrophobic tension of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (an obvious inspiration from the frustrated artist of a husband to the creaking wooden floors) or an intriguing mystery wrapped in the appealing decadence of Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel (another obvious influence).
In so many ways, Aronofsky gets in his own way. It is impossible to forget we are watching a movie when the story is told almost exclusively through self-conscious close-ups of Jennifer Lawrence. She (or her point of view) is in every scene and in at least 98% of the shots. The camera is always, always, always on her expressive face, following her so closely that at times you expect her to bump into the damn thing.
Another big problem is that Lawrence’s protagonist is such a dishrag of a character, a pushover, a put upon doormat (until she is not). Does Mother Nature not have a sense of humor, a little larceny in her heart? I think she does. Aronofsky’s Mother does not wear well.
Mother! is far from a failure. Aronofsky’s feverish talent and disgust with humanity and celebrity adds heft to what is essentially a genre film, a home invasion thriller. Without the director’s bitterly angry voice, mother! would be a whopping failure. His biggest success here, ironically enough, is avoiding pretension.
Nevertheless, even message movies have to work as movies or you end up with a two hour lecture, a tedious hectoring, and that is what mother! is; a highly-stylized lecture, no doubt. But without tension, scares or empathy for the central character, that is all it is.