Cinema, an illustrious industry that has spanned a century. It has raised Hollywood and brought the stars we hold dear into the spotlight and let them shine brighter than thought possible. People like Audrey Hepburn, Robin Williams and Tom Hanks have long had their names in lights, and captured the hearts and emotions of the public for decades and shall live forever to the fans of film. However, in recent years the ticket sales have been waning, and the sales of home formats have been on the decline due to the growing popularity of streaming services. To many it seems like soon the traditionalized way of experiencing the film industry may come to an end for those films that are not a part of a longer on going “franchised universe”. Many would rather see a reboot, sequel, prequel or spin-off that Hollywood likes to churn out, than something original. I in Shakespearean fashion, say “neigh! The art of cinema shall not die!” and raise my sword like He-man.
This is where I would like to admit that I had once perpetuated the collapse of the film industry. I’d have happily have watched a 67th installment of the Marvel franchise than something with substance and depth, i.e Lady Bird. In fact, growing up I didn’t get to explore cinema to much extent. I had never watched Mrs Doubtfire. I had never watched a film that was in black and white. I still have not seen E.T. As a child I visited the cinema to watch the Harry Potter films, and had a select set of VHS tapes that my parents had bought my brother and I to watch, which included The Lion King, Aladdin, and the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Movie. I can tell you that as a child, when you have watched the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Movie for the 100th time you end up thinking it is a good film…until you watch it on streaming services as a hungover undergraduate student and realise it is rather hilariously terrible.
In recent months I took to writing a list of cinema and cult classics that I am still working through (yes E.T. is on the list, don’t @ me) and I have been to the cinema more than I think most people have been in their entire life times. I also at one point in time studied the great Mickey Mouse subject of Media Studies and therefore have opinions. And so it was decreed that from here on out I intend to write reviews of films that I watch, be it from the ever-growing list of well-respected cinema, or new releases. To begin, let’s talk about last years’ film everybody couldn’t possibly have forgotten because we were all constantly reminded about how we could never forget it: Mother! (2017) which was released on DVD and Blu-ray recently.
Put back to basics, Mother! (2017, directed and written by Darren Aronofsky) is a film that follows Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a nameless couple. Whilst Jennifer single handedly renovates their house that comes straight out of a post apocalyptic version of Grand Designs into a paradise, Javier is a writer with writers block. From no where, Jennifer and Javier’s desolate sanctuary is intruded by Ed Harris, and then his wife, Michelle Pfeiffer who has the best acting work in the film….and of course their two sons…oh and can’t forget all the people who attend one of their sons’ wake….and then what can only be described as the population of a small town who all love Javiers’ work…none of whom have any character names. In the sudden surge of popularity Javier relishes the new found glory by drawing religious symbols on foreheads and being worshipped, where as a now heavily pregnant Jennifer becomes increasingly stressed and anxious to get these people to leave so she can presumably ponder whether to paint the living room sickly green or a dull version of urine yellow once again. However, as the movie spirals and twists Jennifer becomes meek, loses control of the house, which descends into anarchy and finally finds a backbone once it is too late.
In my own opinion, Aronofsky’s work can be rather hit and miss. Requiem for a Dream (2000) is still talked about and held in such regard to this day. Black Swan (2010) gives grace and elegance juxtaposed with harsh and dark undertones for something even your own mum will point to when you pick up a copy of Mother! and say “ooooh! The director of Black Swan, that was a good film Dan!” (yeah, thanks for the input mum). Noah (2014) on the other hand falls rather flat. Mother! resides somewhere in the middle territory of these oppositions. It is not an awful film, but I wouldn’t characterize it as being good. Even just in technical aspects Mother! is all over the place. Aronofsky’s use of colour in the film intends to draw you towards Jennifer Lawrence’s character and highlight the dark undertones of everything we see in the film from beginning to end, but Aronofsky shoots on 16mm for the film so the intensity and focus that comes with shooting in digital or 35mm is lost. I note that as a great shame as, apart from Michelle Pfeiffer, the unfinished house is the best character in the film and would be amazing to see the intricate details of.
In terms of plot, Aronofsky’s work on Mother! definitely has quite a clear and obvious viewpoint that he is trying to up hold in regards to both religion and the environment. In the subtext of the film Javier Bardem is the big man himself, God, Jennifer Lawrence is Mother Nature, and the house she tends to is representative of the Earth. Therefore, the intruders who cause the destruction to Lawrence’s house are symbolic of humanity, beginning with Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer as Adam and Eve, and the effect we have with climate change. Although this sounds like quite the interesting concept for a film, Aronofsky is very heavy handed with the underlying message. To call this message “subtext” is very generous on my part as Aronofsky has about as much subtlety as someone shouting “This is that point of the film!” over and over into your face. In addition Aronofsky litters the film with plot points that do not come to any fruition. For example, through out the film Jennifer Lawrence has to take a urine coloured elixir (bright urine this time as to not match the walls) that is essentially a mystery powder and water, so that she can stop what appears to be abdominal pains. Do we find out what that powder is? No. Do we know what the abdominal pains are caused by or what they symbolise? No. Could she take a Gaviscon instead? Probably.
It is apparent in the promotions for the film, and in the themes and structure, that Aronofsky takes a lot of inspiration for the film from Rosemary’s Baby (1968, directed by Roman Polanski). Mother! uses imagery reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby for the film poster, and in viewing is many ways a reflection of the thriller classic. Where as Rosemary’s Baby shows a mortal husband betray his wife in service to Satan, Mother inverts this to a Godly husband betraying his wife in service to a mortal congregation. With this we are left to question whether we are the monster we truly fear, or whether the hubris of religion creates the monster for us to cower from. Where Mother! also differs from Rosemary’s Baby is in pacing and extremity. Mother stays at the same pace for a long time of just asking “what’s going on?” and then quickly escalates to what some would describe as “What the actual fuck?” (Thanks random teenager in the Chicago Arclight screening I originally went to). Rosemary’s Baby, which the film actually takes from however is a slow progression of clues, events and misleads that culminate in an unsettling conclusion, and where Mother! resolves in a series of violent acts aimed at a modern day audience that bores of anything without action, Rosemary’s Baby leaves the viewer trapped in thought as much as Rosemary is trapped in the film.
Overall I would give Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! (2017) 6 Michelle Pfeiffer’s “special family recipe” lemonades out of 10. Although the film has some flaws, it remains perfectly watchable, has a predominantly good cast, and some twists in the story that can be commended.