Darren Aronofsky is one of my favourite filmmakers, an artist working in the mainstream but always testing its boundaries. His movies don’t always succeed with me, but even when they fail they are interesting. His latest, mother!, is probably my favourite movie of 2017 because it is simultaneously familiar and bizarre, a surrealist and highly symbological critique of humanity, complex, coded and dark as pitch.
The movie most definitely does not take place in reality as we know it, operating instead by an intense dream-logic which starts out somewhat stifling and becomes more and more oppressive as the situation deteriorates. The point of view is entirely Jennifer Lawrence’s as the camera is with her at every moment, on her face or looking over her shoulder. She lives in a big house in the country with her husband, played by Javier Bardem, far away from anywhere. She is a happy homemaker and he is a poet with writer’s block. One day a stranger, played by Ed Harris, comes knocking on the door and he is but the first of what ultimately turns out to be multitudes by the film’s unhinged final moments as it plays out a home invasion story in wildly twisted ways.
The film is heavily coded and up to the viewers to interpret for themselves, but based on the events of the story and hearing other critics’ analyses, I think I have a good grasp of what Aronofsky may have been communicating. A significant point is that none of the characters appear to have names. Reading the credits, which are all in lower case, only Javier Bardem’s character is capitalized, listed as “Him”, from which I infer he is God, Jennifer Lawrence is Nature, the house is planet Earth, and all the people who keep showing up at the house are the endlessly replicating masses of humanity, starting small and quasi-biblical at first but eventually growing to overwhelming numbers.
The movie is dark, and I mean pitch black. There are some insanely grotesque images paraded through the house in the second half and there is one scene in particular which genuinely shocked me, and for a viewer as jaded and desensitized as me to say that takes a lot. I loved how uncompromising the movie was in its apparent (to me) critique of religion, both of god and of cults, and the mass hysteria and irresponsibility of human beings in large numbers. There is a real feeling of rage and despair coming through the movie which feels like a parable for how we are treating the Earth and the verdict is not good. The ending of the film builds on a subplot which is obscure and subtle but I believe points to the truth of scientific inquiry revealing the operating systems of the universe, only to what end? In this instance it does not look good, that human beings are damned to repeat their mistakes, but there might also be a glimmer of hope that things could be different next time.
Well done, Darren Aranofsky. In my opinion, the film mother! is the most intense, deep, dark and surprising movie of the year. Definitely my kind of film.