Darren Aronofsky's mother! Is Infuriatingly Awful

Sep 20, 2017 at 6:00 am
Even Jennifer Lawrence isn't enough to redeem this shitshow.
Even Jennifer Lawrence isn't enough to redeem this shitshow. NIKO TAVERNISE/PARAMOUNT PICTURES

I cannot recall the last time a film made me as angry as Darren Aronofsky's mother! has. Maybe never. As mother! unfurled over its two-hour runtime, I found myself actually clenching my jaw with ever-increasing fury as Aronofsky's head wended its way further and further up his own cinematic ass only to declare just how delicious his farts smell. This is a filmmaker for whom mysticism and trippiness have been essential components of his work since his feature debut with 1998's Pi. But never before has an uncomfortable ugliness he was exploring landed with such repulsive pointlessness. Aronofsky is intent on presenting to us in faux metaphysical trappings a "truth" he seems to believe is secret and cryptic. Instead, it's utterly banal and inarguable.

mother! — yes, that's how the filmmakers have styled it — is not an allegory, and it is not metaphorical, though I'm sure Aronofsky, as writer and director, would say it is. Nothing here makes a damn lick of sense except as the literal sequence of events that plods across the screen, and the "characters" are nothing more than cardboard stand-ups representing themselves. No one has a name, but the credits refer to Jennifer Lawrence's character as "Mother," even though she does not become a mother until halfway through the film. Mother has no existence outside the huge, rambling mansion in the middle of nowhere in which she lives with her husband (Javier Bardem).

He does have an external existence: He is not "Father" but "Him." He is able to leave the house — she never does — and he is a writer, a poet, someone with work that bears no connection to her, beyond how, of course, she serves as his muse, his "inspiration." She literally does nothing but serve him: She is renovating the house, which burned down before they met. She wants to "make a paradise" for him. She has no other desire.

But paradise is invaded: One of Him's stalkerish fans, Man (Ed Harris), stops by for a visit and won't leave. Later, Man's wife, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), arrives and makes herself obnoxiously at home. Woman is also pretty much defined solely as a mother, to adult offspring Oldest Son and Younger Brother (played by real-life brothers Domhnall and Brian Gleeson). If that "paradise" was a tip-off, the Cain-and-Abel dynamic between the adult sons cements it. Aronofsky is going to wallow in a tortured literalism not only about literary creation but capital-C Creation — but only from a narrow and abhorrently misogynistic perspective: Men create, and Create, and women suffer for men's art, and for men's religion.

In Aronofsky's eye here, there is no vision or imagination that comes from the mind of a woman: Mother dresses in drab grays, and she's painting Him's house in the same noncolors. The creativity of men, however! Wow: It is chaotic and violent, apocalyptic, even. It's an excitement that Him craves, and encourages, and too bad if Mother will become a victim of it.

Mother exists for no purpose in this tale except so that abuse may be heaped upon her, and so that she may be venerated by Him for it. But that is also the purpose of Mother to mother! The most generous interpretation of Aronofsky's intent here is that he wants to condemn the reduction of women to dehumanized objects and brutalized symbols in both the overarching mythology of our culture and in the prosaic daily operations of Big Entertainment. Aronofsky may even think he is sympathetic to Mother: The entire film is seen through her eyes, and intimate handheld cameras give us her sickened perspective on events that are menacing her. But it's the same hatred for women masquerading as feminism that a slasher flick engages in when it sexualizes a final girl's terror for the titillation of the audience.

You don't counter the awful crap that gets piled on women by our culture, High or Low, by piling on more of the same awful crap. If mother! really wanted to decry the way women are abused and men are deified, it wouldn't merely slather an arty veneer on more of the same-old same-old.