Mother! (2017)
September 16, 2017 10:58 PM - Subscribe

A couple's relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.

A highly contentious new work from Darren Aronofsky, with a fractal number of interpretations. Some are convinced that it's entirely about the book of Genesis, others claim it's all about climate change, and all anyone can agree on is that no explanation covers everything that's going on. Somewhat erroneously billed as a 'horror' film, as opposed to 'a horrifying film'.
posted by FatherDagon (32 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This was a very unpleasant experience. By turns dull and anxiety-inducing. Like listening to someone explain their scary dream in excruciating detail. Or like dreaming about someone explaining a scary, boring dream.

But I'm still thinking about it three days later. I suppose that's a kind of success.
posted by misfish at 5:24 PM on September 17, 2017

a fractal number of interpretations

Yeah, pretty much this. Just got home from the theater, spent a few hours walking and processing after the movie ended. As far as Aronofsky films go, it's definitely in the vague 'what does it all mean?' style of The Fountain (only more so, so much moreso!) rather than the hyper-reality of films like π and Requiem For A Dream. I could leave the Bible stuff out of discussion entirely and be happy, but I suppose it has a place within the larger theme of creation. Matching scenes and characters with Bible verse seems boring and superficial to me.

My interpretation of the overall 'meaning' of the film, inasmuch as it can have just one, is that it depicts the creative process. You have a Poet and an Inspiration, and together they make a poem/house/family/baby/creation. They each bring their essence to the creation, but the creation has to happen within the context of the world, so the world comes too. Much to everyone's chagrin.

I enjoyed how the style of the film brought the vague and dreamy and connective visual style and palette of The Fountain to the intensely personal camera perspective in π. If you enjoyed the chaotic world of Birdman and the docu-personal camera perspective within it , Mother! picks up right where that left off, though it leaves the intense jazz drumming (and all music, for that matter) out.

There's a lot to pick apart, at every level: Characters that you want to know more about, a fascinating setting that's a character itself, and a script structure that I'm beginning to suspect can be analyzed as deeply as any of the other aspects. I haven't quite cottoned onto it yet though. The movie gripped me during the first two acts, but I found myself not interested in wondering where it thought it was going as the second white-out brought about the third act. The ratcheting-up of anxiety-laden tension and action the second time around culminated so intensely that I wondered where the film could go from there.

Of course, I already knew where it was headed thanks to the opening shot. It's hard to remember that Mother gets her comeuppance, given all the shit she goes through to get there.
posted by carsonb at 7:02 PM on September 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Comeuppance implies a deserved punishment. Do you think she deserved anything that happened to her? (Metaphorically speaking, by necessity)
posted by misfish at 7:08 PM on September 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh and how could I leave out the most important thing? That damned bang! in the title is mystifying, intriguing, teasing, and wound up being all I needed to know about the movie before I went to see it.
posted by carsonb at 7:09 PM on September 17, 2017

Comeuppance implies a deserved punishment.

Does it? You're right of course, and I apologize; I used the wrong word. For as much as the house was hers, and the creation happening in it hers as well, she was unable to influence how people interacted within it. There were flashes, like when she tells Pfeiffer and Harris to get out (they basically ignore her) or the people at the party to get off the sink (ignored and taunted) but she was almost wholly reliant on The Poet to effect change on the people who came into the house. Until the very end, then she changed everything. That's what I was getting at.
posted by carsonb at 7:16 PM on September 17, 2017

LA Times -
Lawrence says she found her reaction to the film’s pages evolving as she moved through them. “And then I got to the third act; I threw the script across the room and texted Darren that he had psychological problems,” she said. “Something was very wrong with him.”
Lawrence and I feel similarly.
posted by carsonb at 7:28 PM on September 17, 2017 [5 favorites]

Personally, I think the film covers a plethora of themes and messages simultaneously - the biblical structure insofar as an interpretation of Gnostic beliefs, with the Poet at times serving as the megalomaniacal take on OT YHWH - the Demiurge - and Mother being a representation of the incarnated Godhead. The house IS her, literally - the entire framework of existence is her internality made external, while encapsulating all that exists. The coming of the child-Messiah was an attempt to both rebind the fracturing of the Monad (the bond between Poet and Mother) and to impede the Demiurge's increasing demolition of existence through his disregard for the natural order. The Poet takes the holy message of this reunion and immediately perverts it, facilitating legions of self-serving followers who revere the act of following over the "truth" of the message, escalating into greater levels of chaotic conflict. The Messiah is immediately taken, sacrificed, and consumed as sacrament with no regard for him as a being, merely a vessel for their fulfillment. At this point, that cycle of the Aeon is brought to a catastrophic end as the Mother immolates the entirety of creation.

Of course, this leaves out a wide number of the other allegorical elements - it could also be viewed as civilizations methodical subjugation of women as a whole, the role of Mother being played by all women everywhere in an ever-broadening spiral of social frameworks. The personal relationship, the burden of maintaining all the emotional labor as an increasing number of male-driven choices methodically disregard or take for granted every effort She puts forth to make balance and peace in the world. The house is the literal edifice of Her psyche, but it is His structure she is forced to adapt to, built from the previous cycle of love, abuse and exploitation. The crystal is a vessel holding the last golden shimmers of love that He sustains himself with, while She tries to infuse her house with that same golden tint from Her own palette (the paint tint) and rejects the reality of the toxic cycles end by sublimating her own vision with more of that same golden medicine - She thinks She's fighting off fear by sustaining Herself on love for Him, when in actuality that's what's preventing Her from confronting the horror of the true cycle.

The ecological reading has strong elements of Mother/Gaia being methodically thrown off balance and exploited by the encroachment of Mankind, starting with the first disruptions in the Garden by the family of Adam and ending in catastrophic global conflict, altho that stands at odds with the onus of the cycle recurring at the behest of Man and not the baseline of Gaia.

Phenomenal elements that stood out for me:
In literally every single conversation the Poet has with the Mother, he is either dismissing or deflecting her concerns and statements. The only times he agrees with her are when she is validating his ego, and even then he puts her on the defensive - the brief moment of her absolute awestruck wonder after reading the poem, which is immediately undercut by his both doubt of her truthfulness and the fact that she wasn't even the first person he shared it with.

With the house as her psyche reading, it's of keen interest that she deals with the Guest's violation of her physical space/comfort by hiding the lighter behind the dresser, and with his Wife's violation of her emotional space by hiding the panties in a similar fashion. Those tokens are the lynchpins of *what* she was despising in those people, and yet she ends up burying those tokens in her own (mental) space rather than fully evicting them. And that same lighter, that internalized first slight, is the spark she uses to obliterate everything.

Also, Kristin Wiig as the publicist was just an absolute delight, from her initial breezy impositions to the grim executions carried out in the name of the Message.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:45 PM on September 17, 2017 [8 favorites]

And goddamn but the sound design was amazing.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:46 PM on September 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

About the environmental allegory, some pretty straightforward statements about the meaning of the movie by Aronofsky:
To understand the inception of Mother!, it helps to know that Aronofsky is a passionate environmentalist who studied as a field biologist in Kenya and Alaska while still in high school. Speaking about his last film—a different kind of biblical epic, Noah—he warned that it carried “a huge statement . . . about the coming flood from global warming.”

The idea for Mother! came one morning when Aronofsky was alone in his home. He had been contemplating his complete helplessness to combat the world’s environmental destruction—the global-warming crisis, collapsing ecosystems, extinction at startling rates. He decided to spin a story around a single emotion—rage—and spent the next five days writing “about how it must feel to be Mother Nature,” the script pouring out of him “like a fever dream.” The result is a psychological thriller loaded with religious and environmental symbolism, and a few nods to unexpected inspiration.


Some critics have called the final sequence—particularly what is done to Lawrence—misogynistic. Entertainment Weekly even titled its review “Jennifer Lawrence Gets Put Through the Torture-Porn Wringer.”

But Aronofsky has a response for those people: “They are missing the whole point. It’s misogyny if it says that this is good . . . I think [any spit-take revulsion is] just like an initial reaction to being punched. We are telling the story of Mother Nature turning into a female energy, and we defile the earth. We call her dirt. We don’t clean up after our mess. We drill in her. We cut down her forests. We take without giving back. That’s what the movie is.”
Aronofsky stating the purpose and meaning of the movie takes away some of its interest (art's inherent ambiguity and all that), definitely, and of course, it's also one of the ways he can get away with torturing Jennifer Lawrence, he can come out of it clean by saying it's just a reflection of us, our ways of acting on Mother Earth: I'm just trying to show you how awful we all are. I can see why Mother! would need this kind of attachment to a specific meaning, but, shouted like that, without any ambiguity, leaves the movie being simple moralizing in an aesthetically fascinating guise. It's not movie as art anymore, but movie as ideology and ethical prescription.
posted by sapagan at 12:33 AM on September 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Until the very end, then she changed everything.

Except she changed nothing?
posted by biffa at 8:09 AM on September 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

can see why Mother! would need this kind of attachment to a specific meaning, but, shouted like that, without any ambiguity, leaves the movie being simple moralizing in an aesthetically fascinating guise.

Except in almost every interview that Aronofsky, Lawrence, Bardem et al have given multiple interviews saying different things almost every time - "Aronofsky said the film is an allegory. Before becoming “mother!” the movie’s working title was “Day Six” — the day in the book of Genesis on which God created humanity and gave it dominion over the Earth." Meanwhile, Bardem has spoken about how it's a meditation on the creative process, the cult of celebrity, the loss of the self in the public eye... there's so many different layered interpretations, that I think any interview where the creators say 'Oh, it's entirely about (topic x)' is just them fucking with the media. Multiple occluded interpretations are the bones of this film.
posted by FatherDagon at 8:13 AM on September 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

They are missing the whole point. It’s misogyny if it says that this is good

oh, he's not that simple, he knows better. he's a filmmaker. It's also misogyny if it says that this is bad, but good to watch.

having said that, though, it isn't. so no need to be simple about it in his own defense.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:15 AM on September 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

As an observation, the 'm' in mother is supposed to be lower case apparently. Not sure of the significance. I have to say, the title puts me in mind of George Formby and/or Ronnie Corbett.
posted by biffa at 7:43 AM on September 19, 2017

Man, horrible marketing on this one. I went in expecting a horror movie and instead got Christian allegory. Talk about disappointment.

I'm with the old couple who were leaving the theatre in front of me - the wife reporting to her husband - "That was stupid."
posted by hoodrich at 10:18 AM on September 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Man, horrible marketing on this one.

Like, I totally get this sentiment, but you saw the would you have done it?
posted by carsonb at 7:54 PM on September 19, 2017

I walked out of it feeling like it was misogynist. 2 hours of watching a woman being treated like shit by a man in addition to specifically gendered violence, literally filmed from the perspective of the woman (except for scenes like the one where the crowd starts attacking her) but it's actually written and directed by a man? I don't care if it's "commentary" on how bad that is, we've got a whole lot of that kind of thing existing already and I don't feel like I needed to see more of it. And I was also thinking of the Yellow Wallpaper with her drink/powder, which I feel like puts the whole movie in a "feminist" context but completely subverted.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 4:25 PM on September 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

Nerdy technical note, though: it was apparently filmed on 16mm and I think it looked really nice.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 4:28 PM on September 20, 2017

I really hated this movie, and judging by the reactions of the other filmgoers I was not alone in that opinion.
posted by graventy at 7:14 AM on September 21, 2017

I saw this movie on Tuesday night. I'm still SO FUCKING ANNOYED. From that angle I consider this movie successful.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 11:51 AM on September 21, 2017

Grumpybear69's Three-Word-Review: Too many notes!
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:06 AM on September 24, 2017

Man, horrible marketing on this one. I went in expecting a horror movie and instead got Christian allegory. Talk about disappointment.

Probably Jewish allegory.
posted by maxsparber at 9:34 AM on September 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

Probably Jewish allegory.

I'm pretty sure the literal consumption of the flesh of the Son of God was Christian allegory.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:35 AM on October 4, 2017

The idea that God has both male and female aspects comes directly from kabala, and Darren Aronofsky is Jewish and has drawn from Jewish mysticism for several of his past films. I'd argue the killing and eating of the infant does represent Christianity, but Christianity's destructive supplanting of Judaism.

So maybe an anti-Christian allegory?
posted by maxsparber at 8:41 AM on October 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

Definitely anti, yeah.

Also I just realized that the house emptying out after the wake was the direct result of a flood...
posted by mr_roboto at 3:28 PM on October 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

Is it uncool to post on Fanfare 4 months after the last comment?

I only just watched mother!, and I kind of loved it, but as I watched it I did not at all get the allegorical aspects of it. It seemed to me like a well-realized cinematic depiction of a nightmare, like Jacob’s Ladder. (That film had a big Christian aspect too, so I’m doubly clueless for not catching on.) Once I read of the film’s intended meaning (and yes, there can be fractal meanings, but there’s no way it wasn’t intended to be the story of God and Mother Nature despite any other meanings), everything clicked into place but suddenly became much less interesting to me. It was a great experience to watch, though.

I’m glad I was able to avoid any spoilers about the film before watching it.
posted by ejs at 2:08 PM on February 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's never too late to comment on this movie.

This movie still makes my right eye twitch so I kind of consider it the most succesful movie from last year.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 2:13 PM on February 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

This movie annoyed the living shit out of me. I tried watching it tonight, got to the point where Jennifer Lawrence wakes up in the morning and announces that she's pregnant, and then I said screw it and just read the movie's summary on Wikipedia.
posted by orange swan at 8:22 PM on March 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I swear to you that this post about this movie showing back up in my recent activity made my freaking right eye twitch. Aw yes, the "I dare you to fuck me! I bet your sparkly magical jizz impregnates me in three seconds!" trope. I AM STILL SO ANNOYED BY THIS MOVIE.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 9:32 PM on March 21, 2018

I just saw this. I had no idea what it was about and don’t remember seeing any ads so I didn’t know what to think going in. I liked it, as in I thought it was really beautifully shot and acted. I agree with the misogyny. The entire film was Javier Bardem doing whatever the fuck he pleases. ever.

As someone who tries to be a good host, all those guests were just stressing me the fuck out. Starting with Michelle Pfeiffer. Holy shit was that character like the worst person...until we get to the baby eaters. Fucking crazy. This one’s going to stick with me for a couple days at least.
posted by LizBoBiz at 5:40 AM on March 10, 2019

The lowercase m in the title makes sense if you think of the ! as representing factorial; also the script/italic font.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:21 PM on September 5, 2019

Jesus Christ. My right eye started twitching as soon as this popped back into my recent activity.

Most successful movie ever at making my eye twitch after years of not seeing the movie. A+, eye will twitch again because of this movie.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 1:52 AM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Basically a big budget adaptation of Too Many Cooks
posted by oulipian at 7:55 PM on October 30, 2021

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