Sunday 17 September 2017

Review: mother!

Year: 2017
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Screenplay: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer.

Synopsis is here:

So that was mother! A tumbling freefall about the creative process? An overloaded allegory about absolutely everything? Whatever you may think the film is about, the main point I seemed to take from the film is that Aronofsky is Angry with a capital A, to substitute the missing capital in the film’s title card. At the time of writing, my twitter feed has been filled with snarky cinephiles bemoaning the film’s outrageousness as well as the punishing way it tortures its lead (who the director is now dating). It’s a film where its detractors must scream from the highest mountain on how much they disliked it.

Another word beginning with A that I would describe mother! With be absurd. It’s a film which wanted to make a point about humanity’s destruction of the planet, as well as flirt with the same sort of biblical subtexts that Aronofsky has been playing with since his lo-fi indie breakthrough Pi (1998). It wants to mention commentary on celebrity culture and wishes to it do so with haunted house tropes and lingering references to Roman Polanski. The film lays its cards on the table with little disregard on whether the audience wishes to go with it or not. Its execution is set at a pitch which is so high that only dogs could hear. It’s not surprising that it’s set audiences apart. There are those who clearly have the ear for it and those wondering why the other half have tilted their heads.

Did I like it? Sure. I cackled like a schoolgirl through a lot of mother! Mostly because its high camp melodrama tickled me in the right way. I couldn’t take such an audacious film seriously and I suspect that the film and its makers know this, despite its clear Anger at the world. The only way Aronofsky could lash out at everything that pisses him off (the environment, celebrity hounding, the meaning and understanding of creation/destruction). It’s reminiscent of Polanski’s apartment trilogy and holds a similar love for finding humour in its bleakness. Its main conceit had me considering the haywire temperament of Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession (1981) as well as Chuck Palahniuk’s fever dream of a novel Diary (2003).  It also seems to nod at the transgressional nightmares of Lars Von Trier and tries to aim for that same troublesome headspace. I must admit I’m more with Aronofsky’s style of “lulz” than Von Trier’s. I also feel that all the aforementioned examples are tighter with their focus.

My main issue with the movie is that despite its clear intention to be an ambitious piece of audacity, is that it has the same problems as Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales (2006). It wants to be all these things to its audience, but in doing so, the film becomes much of a muchness. The cast is routinely up for the absurdity even though it’s not top tier performances from any of them.  The tight claustrophobic framing, overloading of close-ups and bucking of typical structure gives the film a vision far removed from so many movies recently released. However, despite the “fun” you can have reveled in its nihilism (it’s really made for a particular sense of humour) once the film enters its extraordinary final 30 minutes, it all feels like 10 different people shouting at once, which is strange considering the film does what it can to isolate everything through the viewpoint of Jenifer Lawrence’s character.

That said, mother! is kind of the perfect type of movie for where we are as filmgoers. It’s ability to polarise audiences is heartily welcomed in the film world that seems hellbent on clogging social media streams on which bland filmmaker has been fired from whichever totally safe megafranchise. While the films detractor’s current snark levels feel somewhat insufferable, rather this than a movie that gave us no experience. To those who favour the film, it’s interesting to see what exactly they see within the hysteria. I for one enjoyed seeing a director try and reach for the sky. It’s very telling to see how many people were quick claim folly on this Icarus attempt. Each to their own. However, one hopes the conversations on mother! last for a long time. I may then be interested in rewatching it and joining in.