Always Be Good To Her. Mother! #review #Mother #movies
Wow! So, I just paced my house for the last 15 minutes trying to figure out what I wanted to say about this movie, yet it’s so simplistic in its message that I don’t think that I have to say as much about it as I thought I would. So if the movie was so simple, then why the heck do I like it so much? Is it even a good film? And how did Jennifer Lawrence’s top-nude scenes not save this movie? Let’s dig in and find out.
The movie mother! By Darren Aronofsky and starring mega-star Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem is a movie that, uh... was definitely marketed wrong. It’s not rare that I say that but it is rare that I start a review in that manner. I did it because I think that a great deal of this movie’s box-office floppiness is due, in part, to the marketing. Yes, the critics played a part in it too, either hyping it as something that is almost so smart and brilliant that most people are turned off by the pretentiousness of the critiques, and conclude that the film must also be pretentious. Or crapping on the film so hard for being... well, pretentious and overly preachy. Apparently, in this time of Trumpism and everything being divided either into a camp of Liberal or Conservative, the slightest whiff of any political message gets lambasted by both sides regardless of its artistic worthiness. And then there are that small sliver of critics who are just pissed about the baby. But before we throw the movie out with the baby water, or, wait... Is that how that saying goes? Hmph? I don’t know. Anyway, before you dismiss the movie for the baby scene, and yes there will be SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW (kind of impossible not to review it without spoilers. I’ll explain why later), remember that these are some of the same critics that praised IT. That’s all I’ll say for now until I get to the spoiler-heavy area.
So, in mother! Jennifer Lawrence plays a young woman (correction: young, beautiful, really hot woman; oh my god I don’t think I’ve been more attracted to her than here. Damn, with my comments about Laura Dern on my Twin Peaks post and my comments about Baywatch, I truly am becoming a dirty old lecher) married to Javier Bardem, who, while still attractive himself, is aging and looks it. Let me point out that the parenthetical above, while at first glance sexist and chauvinistic, is actually extremely apt for Lawrence’s description and character in this movie, and you’ll understand why later.
Bardem is supposed to be a writer, in fact, the author of this book which we’re not exactly sure was popular or not as he, like almost all writers, is self-deprecating and talks about how so few people have read it. Lawrence is his young housewife who is concerned almost solely with making their house into a home. See, Bardem (note that I will always use the actors names as the don’t officially have character names but designations. This is easier) used to live in this house before, but it burned down in a tragic fire we briefly see at the beginning. We later learn that he escaped that fire only to come back to the house and discover one lone thing left within the ashes, a clear egg-shaped orb with fiery veins that glow through it. That is not my best poetry to explain the beauty of this thing, but it’ll have to do for now. Now that he’s rebuilt the house, he and his bride have moved in to start their life. This is paradise. It’s a country home so there are no other people around probably for miles and they like it that way. Hell, Jennifer never even feels she has to leave the house it’s so amazing.
And then a man shows up.
A stranger, the man is supposedly a doctor come to the local town to do research at the school. He came to their house looking for a bed and breakfast and automatically seems suspicious to Jennifer because they’re literally in the middle of nowhere, so the man had to come really far out to happen upon their door. Bardem lets the man in and allows him to get comfortable. Well, as it so happens, the man is a fan of Bardem’s work. As Bardem takes him on a tour of the house, the man remarks on how beautiful Jennifer is and he also talks about the beauty of that orb, but Javier does not let him touch the orb, which is very important to both the story and one of my criticisms of the movie.
Well, Bardem, much to Jennifer’s shock, welcomes the man to stay the night. Jennifer doesn’t like this, especially because the man smokes and does it inside of the house. Not only that, but the man is sick with something that Jennifer knows nothing about, which is another important point for criticism. She sees her husband holding the man while he vomits into the toilet, coughing up something that she can’t identify. As he is coughing, she finds his Zippo lighter and knocks it behind the cabinet in the room that they’ve now made into a guest room for him.
And the next morning his wife arrives.
Wait, he has a wife? Reader, you didn’t know he had a wife? Played by Michelle Pfeiffer who had conceivably dropped off the face of the earth (ha! I’m making myself laugh now. I need to stop), the wife is even more intrusive and rude the husband. She demands to have a tour, asks the all-important kids question, loudly wonders about the age gap between Jennifer and Javier, invites herself to stay with her husband and immediately starts drinking. For the first half hour, this movie plays as nothing more than a potential horror movie/psychological slow-creep thriller about very bad houseguests. Michelle tells Jennifer that she needs to spice things up in her marriage because Michelle immediately figures out that while Jennifer wants children, Javier either doesn’t (though he said he did) or just isn’t interested in them right now. Not enough to have sex with Jennifer, at least. This is what is bothering her. That, along with the fact that while Javier is claiming to work, he hasn’t been able to create anything new in a very long time. Things are beginning to get tense.
And then the wife breaks the orb.
Javier gets so mad about the orb breaking that he boards up his office so they can never get in again, but still allows them to be guests in the house.
And then their sons arrive. Two sons, they arrive in a ruckus. As it turns out, their father is so sick that he is about to die. He recently changed his will to have everything go into a trust rather than divvy up his fortune to his heirs. This way, his sons and wife all have to get along and make communal money decisions. But one son is so angry that he bludgeons his brother to death in the middle of one of the rooms. While Javier and the family leave to take the brother to the hospital (strangely disappearing as soon as they are out the door) and the murdering brother briefly returns to get his wallet, Jennifer follows the leak of the blood through a hole in the floor and down to the basement where she finds a room that looks like it has some kind of oil barrel in it possibly for the heating of the house.
The family comes back and hosts a bereavement gathering for the brother. And this is when things start to get hella weird because these people are even more rude than the family and Jennifer is losing it. They are using the bathroom without asking, sitting on unstable counters, using the couple’s bedroom to try to get it on and, in the weirdest twist, painting the walls. And this is legitimately the first moment in the movie where, if you haven’t been forewarned what’s going on, you will start to question what the hell you just paid for and either check out or try to figure it out. I would say wait, slow down, think about it, and try to figure it out because the second half of the film gets even crazier.
|There Were Many Letters I Could Have Gotten But I Wanted One|
The one big problem? That hole where the blood bled through is not only still there, but it still seems to be bleeding. Even when she puts a rug over it, it not only bleeds but bleeds through the rug. Then she takes the rug away from the floor to see that the floor is no longer bleeding but its actually the rug. This is just one of the many problems that she has seen wrong with the house throughout its existence. See, every so often she’ll get a pulsing sensation through her heart and also feel the house’s “heart” beating. Often during these times she can see or feel the decay of the house, the old burnt pieces of wood and destroyed plaster, see the warp of the fire-damaged frame on which this house is built. She sees it on the walls and the floors and the ceilings and everywhere and then she straightens up, goes to take some kind of tonic (what the tonic is, we really never know), and then is fine again for a little while.
And here is where those people who don’t want to be spoiled (even though I’ve told you about half the movie already) step off the train and leave because literally once you read the next sentence, you can go into it knowing exactly what to expect and there should be no real surprises in the movie.
OK, so there are going to be spoilers for the entirety of the plot from here-on out. OK? Got it?
OK, so here is why I really don’t understand why this film is so split with people, save for if it is a criticism not necessarily of the film but of the two main people involved: Darren Aronofsky and Jennifer Lawrence. The movie can be taken to have two messages, depending on how you want to see them, based on the same exact thing. The movie is a basic, almost overly simplistic allegory (more metaphor than allegory, frankly) of the story of mother earth, humanity and (here’s where the split is) either the first and last books in the Christian Bible, or an atheistic more nature/scientific look at the infinite loop of existence. In either case, it plays into climate change. While I could spend most of my time breaking down the latter, the former is what most people saw who understood the movie.
By now, you should be able to come up with the fact that Jennifer, who, as I mentioned, never leaves or even steps foot out of the house. (She does walk onto the porch, but for the sake of this film and I’m sure what was intended in Darren’s mind we will consider that still inside the house). Both she and the house are one as evidenced by the opening sequence in which the old house was already burnt down but everything remakes itself and the crumbled embers of a person lying in bed rejuvenates, puffs and grows back into a woman. She and the house are the literal interpretation of mother earth. So, anything that she does to the house also happens to her.
If she is mother Earth/nature then her husband must be... OK, here is where I will briefly mention the atheistic possibility, then go back to the Christian one. If looking at this from a purely atheist view (I mention this because Darren Aronofsky is reportedly a Jewish-raised atheist, though both this and his last movie Noah are heavily religious in tone), you can actually conclude that Javier is Father Time. You can conclude this for a few reasons starting with his age. He looks much older, much more worn. But his profession as a writer can also refer to the old line about life or certain events being “written on the sands of time” which are controlled by father time. Again, that is only there if you don’t want to see the religious aspect.
Now, back to the Judeo-Christian interpretation. In the loosest sense, Javier is God to Jennifer’s mother earth. I can see some other devout Christians understanding that and not liking it. Darren has to make some narrative compromises (not all of which are necessary) to fit in the movie. In the case of Javier not being the full-on creator as in the Christian bible, we can excuse that for sake of not giving the entire film away. Where as in the bible there was nothing, from which God birthed everything including mother earth, here both the basic structure of the house and the ashes that constitute mother are already in existence and he simply reconstitutes them. It is unclear and never shown whether or not he ever started from scratch.
So then if we have our God and mother earth, then you already know the man is Adam, his wife, Michelle Pfeifer, is Eve. Here, I have a criticism. This slight narrative alteration, while seemingly small, is exceptionally significant. I’m talking about the sickness. Again, I know that Jennifer is a feminist and I believe Darren is also, so I can see why they’d change this, but it still stuck out to me. In the film, when the man is introduced he not only already has vice (smoking and drinking) but he is also shown to be sick and ailing the night before his wife arrives. He is shown with an imperfect body (there’s some huge gash on his side where, presumably his rib was), and he’s throwing up. The thing he vomited up looks devilish.
In the Bible there is nothing wrong with Adam. As much as it may hurt to hear, Adam’s downfall from perfection and oneness with nature and God doesn’t come around until Eve is introduced. The fact that he shows that the man is sick and vice-filled enough to piss off mother earth with his smoking BEFORE Eve arrives betrays the original Biblical narrative of the Fall and suggests that mankind has always been inherently sinful. This is only further solidified by the fact that we never see a devil or tempting force that makes them go up to Javier’s office and accidentally break that beautiful crystal, which is meant to stand in as the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This purports the premise that man has always been an evil creature as opposed to just a sometimes stupid one that doesn’t listen. Legitimately, this was probably my biggest critique of the film as it puts almost all of the onus on Adam and very little on Eve.
And of course if those two are Adam and Eve, then their two sons are Cain and Abel. This, unlike the Adam smoking and being sick thing, is a needed narrative change because it would look strange for them to fight over the inheritance/favor of Javier’s character/God as in the Bible, when they don’t know him. It also makes the point of the first blood spilt on the earth from murder, as opposed to sacrifice, of extreme importance. The blood both leads down to the basement to the room where the oil is which we know becomes the instrument for the later destruction, and it leaves a stain on the floor that can never be healed. But even worse, it leaves a stain in the same room where mother, rather inexplicably, chooses to put a nursery. This is symbolic for mother earth and God’s ability to take the most horrifying event in life and bring beauty anew from it.
By this time, you’ve already guessed why I specifically called out Jennifer’s beauty in this film. Obviously she’s wearing makeup in this film as she does in all films (nature of the business) but here, in a great many of the scenes she is so brushed that she literally looks like a porcelain doll. She is noticeably perfect. The sheen is in the exact right place and she looks more perfect and enticing, while also being more innocent than she ever has before, even in real life on Oscars carpets and in her Hunger Games glow-up scenes. Yes, this is partially because she’s older and has the gloss of maturity on her, but it is also intentional to show the pure-driven innocence and untouched beauty of mother nature/earth in times and places where humans do not heavily disrupt what is already there.
Then, as the craziness begins in the second act of the film, if you figured the message out and the Biblical references in the first act, you are wholly prepared for all the insanity of the second act, even though Darren does take it slightly over the top with the messaging. You don’t necessarily need to be beat over the head with the message, but he does that just to make sure you’re getting it. Here, I can see people balking at its preachyness. And the other half of the audience that still hasn’t got it by that point in time (whether they just haven’t thought about what they’re consuming or are of a different religion that knows little about the Judeo-Christian creation) sees a hodgepodge of insanity that makes almost no sense until the end.
Let me actually back up to the beginning of that last paragraph and talk about the structure of the film because I think it’s important. To me, this film does not have the traditional three-act structure like so many writers—screenwriters in particular—talk about. Yes, you can make an argument for the calm-down after the baby’s birth being a third act, or even after the re-creation, however I wouldn’t count either of those as full or even partial acts unto themselves but rather elongated beats in the second act. I point this out because it mimics both our calendar concept of time (B.C. and A.D. or C.E.) as well as the division of the Christian Bible between old and new testament, casting away much of its Judaism and Islamic principles shared amongst all three religions and going strictly for the Christian path. Here, I can also see another minor criticism from other devout Christians popping up who understood the movie. It is quite easy for them to say, and rightfully so, that Christianity, for whatever reason is the most criticized and easiest to criticize in Hollywood or pop culture in general, both here and around the world. There are, however, other religions in the world and some that even predate Christianity, yet they field almost no criticism quite like Christians do. While I can see some people saying this, I was fine with it. I’m even OK with a declared atheist making religious films so long as he takes the time to understand the subject matter on a deeper level than just, “I don’t believe in this and these people are weak who believe in this so let me make fun of them,” like other atheist filmmakers have done in the past.
So, while mother is pregnant, her husband finishes his new word, his first new creation in a very long time. And before mother’s even done reading it, his publisher is already calling about how many copies are being made. This can be taken as another reference to Javier being father time in an atheistic interpretation. We as an audience have been well-trained to understand the passage of time in film so much so that we take it for granted when we see one image that is starkly different from the previous image. For instance, whenever you see a flat-tummyed woman in a scene saying that she’s pregnant and in the very next scene she’s now rubbing her bulbous ready-to-pop belly, we automatically assume that months have passed. Here, however, because of the blunt messaging of the film, we really shouldn’t blatantly assume such a thing. Just as Jennifer knows right away that she is pregnant the morning after she and Javier have sex, the very next scene in which she is near ready to give birth could very well be the next day or two days later, rather than months. I say this because of the speedy pace of the second act of the movie.
We go from the book being published, to her preparing a celebratory dinner for just the two of them, to fans showing up on their doorstep to talk about the new book, to the fans invading their home to talk about the book, to stealing things from the house, to trying to paint the house again, to raving and having parties and sex, and destroying the kitchen, to all-out chaos and troopers and police invading the house, to people looking at mother to check her teeth and treat her like cattle ready to sell into slavery, to people bombing the house, to people protesting and chanting gibberish against each other, to people yanking and grabbing and pulling at her and Javier, to people receiving Javier’s word and getting symbols of blood smeared on their forehead to she and Javier finally escaping back into his office he had boarded up from Adam and Eve so long ago after they broke that egg-crystal.
She gives birth and the people give gifts and want to see the baby but she doesn’t want her baby to be seen by them. Here, both the atheistic and Christian narratives mingle to give us two meanings of equal weight and caliber. In the Christian narrative the child is Jesus—a child created not by man but by God and mother earth/nature. In the atheistic narrative which also serves as interpretation for what and who Jesus is, the child is every gift both big and small that this earth gives us, which is basically everything. We would have nothing without the earth’s (and God’s) generosity. The child is oil, food, medicine, wood for houses, metal for electronics, everything you can think of that we “need” in our lives today. But because mother has already given so much of herself, of her house to people, she wants this one thing to herself.
But God loves everyone including mother earth, so while he understands her hurt over their house having been half-destroyed, he still wants to just show them his pride and joy. They play a game of attrition that she finally loses by falling asleep for a second. He takes the baby and shows it to the crowd but she runs after it and then we have the baby scene. In it, the baby’s neck audibly snaps as the crowd passes the baby around. If you’ve seen Aronofsky’s Noah, then think of that lamb scene in which they throw the animal into the air and the people tear at its limbs while it is still alive. Then, for a brief second, mother gets to an altar at front to see that the people have eaten the baby, picked it’s bones clean. And I actually started laughing only because the quick flash of the picked-over carcass looked exactly like the leftover bones of a roast chicken. And I literally thought, dag, did Perdue pay for some advertising in this movie?
The crowd then rages at mother, half stripping off her shirt and beating her. On an off-screen, on-screen note, I was wondering how Jennifer Lawrence and a lot of these female stars that have been hacked in recent years felt about onscreen nudity now. I’m not saying that the hack effected her decision and I don’t know if her breasts at the end of the film were hers or if that was a body double because in the midst of the fight, it did look like someone different at times, but I do know that her breasts in the sheer top at the beginning of the movie were all her and I did like them. Shame me for liking breasts if you want to. I don’t care. But I will say that if they were hers, then I think she chose the right film in which to sort of snap back against the invasion of privacy of the hack and reclaim rights to her own body. Here, her bare breasts were shown, in both instances, with artistic meaning. It wasn’t just enough to appreciate the nakedness of the female form but to say that mother earth started as an innocent stripped down form of beauty, now man has come in and seeks to strip her once again but not to admire her beauty but to strip her of said beauty. It, in some ways, is a poetic mirror to the picture hack controversy.
And in the end she grabs Adam’s Zippo lighter that has been sitting behind the cabinet for all this time, runs to the basement and sets the house on fire, blowing it up. Only she and Javier survive: him without a scratch and her charred crispy which is precisely what is suggested will happen to this earth in the book of Revelation (because God’s already destroyed the world with water with the great flood) and by today’s climate change scientists. Javier talks to her about why he let the people in and how he can’t help it because he has to create (which is almost the exact same thing I wrote in one of my books that I never got published). He then reaches into her chest cavity, pulls another one of those beautiful crystals from out of her and watches as she dies and turns to ash. He takes the crystal and places it on a special holder he has in his office and the house peels back the char, repaints a lot of itself and gets to humming again. A woman even puffs back up to fluffy in bed just like in the beginning and everything starts again, ending this whole story with a Buddhist reincarnation-like twist like in one of my works.
The meaning is straight forward: we humans have come into and been gifted a land of beauty and perfection but we’ve taken advantage of it so much that we are destroying all the things this world has and is giving us on an environmental level. Eventually, it will turn on us and decide that it either doesn’t want to live anymore or try to destroy us if we haven’t already destroyed ourselves and it by that time. This, when taking some of Revelation and the other disciples’ scripture literally, is actually the exact thing said in the Bible too. For people like me, who see the parallels to what we are doing both to the ecosystem/environment and what we are doing to each other, this message is not lost. I have long been an avid eco-warrior. Longtime readers should know that I have wanted to make a Captain Planet film for a very long time because I think that it is important. And I have always believed that regardless of your religion (but especially if you’re a Christian), one of your chief concerns should be treating this earth right because it has given so much to us all. This is probably why I was able to overlook the preachyness of the film and the undertones that serve as an indictment against religions being bad and destructive (everything influenced by man is bad and destructive, including atheism and science) to really enjoy this movie.
There are a lot of critics that are trying to parse out one message at a time similar to what fans of Twin Peaks do. But as I said there, sometimes you can get stuck on the little things and make them into something larger than what they should be rather than looking at the big picture. To say that this movie is against protesting or police brutality or something like that just because that is shown briefly, is to miss the point of the movie. Yes, those things are important but in the whole of it, they are quite minor. While the movie is overly artsy at times and goes from a gentle caress of a massage in the first act to a heavy-handed deep-tissue thump in the second act, it is ultimately as bubblegum Hollywood as you can get with the simplest message: we as a species need to figure out our danged problems real fast and start learning how to treat each other right, as well as this beautiful earth that has been gifted to us, otherwise we’re going to lose it. And while God can, and most likely will start over (and in this movie he does bear some of the blame here for mother’s breakdown), he only wants us to find an equilibrium where all three of us can live in perfect and pure harmony. See? Simple. Don’t let other reviewers tell you otherwise. You can further extrapolate from there.
My big problems is that in many interviews both Jennifer and Darren straight said that she was mother earth. I think it was a mistake to tell the message of the movie before people have seen it. That is one thing that Darren can certainly learn from David Lynch. It almost feels like telling the mystery of a film before seeing the film. I know, there are plenty of people who will read a book that something is based on, then go see the movie which, even though I hope for the same thing later in my career with my works, always found to be a little weird. I think this would’ve been better if audiences had a little more mystery going into it.
Also, I found a lot of critics’ reviews stupid. Chief among the complaints (which was a problem with Jennifer’s last movie Passengers) is that the film was called out as being too misogynistic. Give me a break. Some reviewers have suggested that the film has a “muse” problem and that Jennifer is too passive to Javier’s controlling masculinity in which he dictates what can and can’t happen in his house. It’s almost as if they don’t understand that God is God, or the story as a whole. He created her. She comes from him. And this goes back to my Adam sickness and Eve’s responsibility critique, beside I find that the movie makes it perfectly clear what the power dynamic is. Michelle or Eve makes it a point to call attention to their age difference, suggesting that they are, in no ways equals here. To me, her criticism is the exact same criticism that the critics have. She’s not supposed to be treated equally. She is actually pedestal-ed as his last creation. In essence, she is equal to all of the guests of their home because God loves them, too. Saying that she is not strong enough as a character misses the point of the metaphor. It would be like saying one of my books (my creation) is not fairly treated in relation to me. It makes almost no sense. Again, you have to view this through a biblical paradigm. The earth has no true personality of its own because it is never given freewill of its own nor spirit nor soul but is always coddled by God. It is only given the tools to defend itself and not be of itself. It is vessel.
What do you think? Have you seen mother!? If not, do you think you will now after reading this? If you did, how did you like the movie? Did you understand it while you were watching it? If you didn’t understand it but get it now, do you think that understanding the meaning of the movie before seeing it would have influenced how you felt about the movie? Honestly, I thought I was going to see a horror movie and had only seen one trailer (I tried not to suffer from multiple-trailer fatigue this year for any film I saw) and was briefly disappointed before being pleasantly surprised by the story. Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Check out my 5-star comedy novel, Yep, I'm Totally Stalking My Ex-Boyfriend. #AhStalking If you’re looking for a scare, check the YA novel #AFuriousWind, the NA novel #DARKER, #BrandNewHome or the bizarre horror #ThePowerOfTen. For those interested in something a little more dramatic and adult, check out #TheWriter. Seasons 1, 2 and 3 are out NOW, exclusively on Amazon. Stay connected here for updates on season 4 coming summer 2018. If you like fast action/crime check out #ADangerousLow. The sequel A New Low will be out in a few months. Look for the mysterious Sci-fi episodic novella series Extraordinary on Amazon. Season 2 of that coming real soon. And look for the mystery novels The Knowledge of Fear #KnowFear and The Man on the Roof #TMOTR coming this fall/winter. Twisty novels as good as Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train, you won’t want to miss them. Join us on Goodreads to talk about books and TV, and subscribe to and follow my blog with that Google+ button to the right.
Until next time, “You didn’t send your mother a birthday card but you sent one to your dry cleaner?”
‘Well, my dry cleaner always keeps me looking clean and stylish.’
“Hm? OK. Fair enough.”
P.S. The release date of this movie is super strange as it is not really in the prime spot for awards season fodder nor is it in a good spot for box-office success. If they wanted a horror movie box office, they should’ve released it in October. Awards? November. Box office? Either during Easter or on Mother’s day. Wasted opportunity. Anyway, I’ll try to come up with a better sign-off next time.
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