mother! (2017) by Darren Aronofsky
Review by Paige Taylor
“I want to make a Paradise.”
(THIS IS A SPOILER-FREE REVIEW!)
I walked into the theater expecting to see a spooky haunted house film. What I got was unrelenting, uncompromising, visceral punishment. I was in exponentially increasing distress for a full 121 minutes.
If you really enjoyed this movie, I imagine you're going to read a lot of religious-based evaluations and I'll be right there with ya because ya girl here was too busy scoffing and asking rude questions during bible studies to be any sort of expert in that area. In fact, to be honest, I didn't even realize that the main characters were based on religious figures until someone mentioned it during the credits and after a few moments I was like Oh. Well that changes everything.
I am very happy that this allegory escaped me because I spent the entire movie trying to absorb the horror I was seeing rather than focusing on trying to play Guess Who: Biblical Edition. In fact, I ALSO missed the whole reason Darren Aronofsky wrote the film, which apparently was to have a discussion about how we are killing the earth. In fact, after reading article upon article it seems that mother! has approximately 486 possible themes and I fucking missed all of them. But you know what? I don’t even care. While everyone is deep in discussion about all the possible symbolism and allegories, I instead want to reel it back to face value and talk about why I sat in the theater almost maddened with stress and fear. In the end, the thing that horrified me the most about this movie was the idea of destroying a home.
You ever think about how when a mother bird builds her nest, she spends time selecting each individual piece? Each twig, leaf, and feather is personally chosen to be part of her home. From an outsider’s perspective, she might seem silly. Why be so choosy? Why not make one that's functional and simple, and call it a day? Just make your twig bowl and plop some eggs in there, chop chop!
Women who make the effort to create the perfect home are often looked at like that. We take our time to pick out curtains, or spend hours in the paint aisle staring at swatches, or hold up throw pillows and try to visualize what they'll look like on the couch. We do things like this all the time, and the entire process is waved off as ~womanly nonsense~.
You see, the difference between most men and women is that men can give you a house, and women can give you a home. (Forgive me for generalizing, because I know this of course doesn't apply to all, but bear with me here.) Women spend countless hours and money cultivating the perfect living environment because they understand that home needs to feel like somewhere you don't feel an impulse to escape from, but rather a place to escape to. This desire to build a paradise is one of the most important things to a woman, and even more so to those with families. After a long, exhausting day of dealing with Life in General™, it is crucial to come home to somewhere that's the picture of comfort. Which leads me to mother!
I've never been able to explain the intimate connection a woman has to her home, and mother! did an incredible job of illustrating that connection to me. The entire movie is spent following Jennifer Lawrence’s character, mother. In fact, the majority of shots in the film are on her face, over her shoulder, and through her point of view. This way of shooting along with an intense sound design that focuses on her occasional suffering of sensory overload create a deep sense of familiarity and empathy with her character. We discover that mother built and remodeled the house from ashes all on her own and as the film goes on we see her press her cheek against the wall and hear and see the house’s actual beating heart. It becomes clear that both mother and the house are one and the same.
After this connection is heavily established, that is when the torture begins. We watch as mother receives unwanted guest after unwanted guest because of her husband’s apparent obsession with validation. Initially when it starts out as mild inconveniences, mother tries her best to be a welcoming host despite her discomfort and anger at her husband for not consulting her. As time goes on, we watch as mother goes from someone who just wants to go to bed early and cuddle with her husband, to someone trying to survive a hellish, surreal, harrowing nightmare.
Every bit of damage that was done, from small nuisances to utter chaos and destruction, felt like a blow to the chest. I felt enraged with every guest that entered and sympathized with her wish to be hospitable and polite despite no one caring about the emotional strain they were putting her through. When she was brave enough to express her anger, I felt proud. And when we reached the peak of the third act, I was petrified.
You see the thing that terrified me the most, was the concept of feeling like a chasm has opened up and swallowed you into the depths of hell, all while knowing it was built from the bones of your sanctuary.
I understand there's a lot going on in this movie and this theme is one in a plethora but I'm so grateful that for once, a woman's connection to her home is portrayed as sacred and profound, rather than shallow and frivolous. Darren Aronofsky, you really freaked me the fuck out, buddy. I spent most of your film with a hand clasped over my heart, fighting the impulse to clamp my eyes shut for 2 hours instead of enduring your psychological mayhem. But I fought through it and in the end, I'm glad for it.
VIVA LA HOME IMPROVEMENT