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Over the years I have engaged in numerous conversations with friends and acquaintances, and one of the most common topics that occur is how I can assign a film a decidedly positive rating when I obviously expressed many negative comments about the film. It is important to remember that movies are a means of artistic expression. The primary function of art, in any from painting to poetry and literature, is to evoke an emotional response in the audience. The point is, not all emotions are positive. The integrity of an artist would be severely compromised if only a small sliver of the spectrum of human emotions are considered valid. This seemed to be a fitting preface for a consideration of the film, ‘Mother!’. The latest work from the highly creative filmmaker, Darren Aronofsky. I have been an ardent fan of his ever since I became enthralled by his enigmatic freshman opus, ‘Pi.’ Although I considered each movie to be artistically intriguing, I cannot say that all of them left me in a positive mood as the final credit began to roll. This can be expanded to state that one of the stylistic choices Mr. Aronofsky embraces the darker aspects of the human psyche. If an example is required experience his movie from, 2000 ‘Requiem for a Dream’. It is an exceptionally well-crafted film albeit one that many consider difficult ever to watch again. He is a divisive auteur generating extremely strong reactions encompassing both appreciations of his technique and penchant for dismal themes to those too depressed by his projects to commit to the effort the case presented here, ‘Mother!’. The efficiently sparse façade covers a work of psychological horror that will target a shadowy recess of your mind. Occupy it causing you to continue to mull over the details reevaluating the details of the experience.

There is a distinct depersonalization created by the complete lack of proper names for the principal characters. At the core of the story is a married couple, Him (Javier Bardem) and Mother (Jennifer Lawrence). Mr. Aronofsky’s reputation among the cinematic community was able for him to acquire the services of two Academy Award winners in these roles and three in the supporting cast. Several specifically altered their schedules and modified existing commitments to participate in this production. As proof of the polarizing nature of his work, the screening of the film was met with disdain and praise. The important thing to take away from these comments is to enter your viewing of the movie with an open mind. Ignore all preconceptions but remember either way you will not complete the experience indifferent to the film and its creator. By completely eschewing the use of personal names Mr. Aronofsky depersonalizes the story and enhances its universal relevance. They are simultaneously no one and everyone, the Schrodinger’s cat of cinema. By breaking the conventional norms of storytelling the story, the audience is forced into a different perspective than most are accustomed to holding.

Him and Mother recently had their house disrupted by a fire. He is a globally renowned poet who is suffering from serve writer’s block. If this scenario was encountered in a freshman literature class, the tendency would compare the fire metaphorically to the fire. The best course to take is to sit back; the narrative is about to take a very chaotic turn. Mother has been on edge, seeing things that upset her around their house. The uneasy feelings are reinforced when they receive a visitor, Man (Ed Harris). He asks if he can rent a room, a request agreed upon by Him but reluctantly by Mother. The mysterious ambiance deepens when Man experiences fit of coughing and lather a wound over his ribs that is oddly covered by Him when he notices his wife’s reaction. Man’s wife, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), arrives and stays. The interpersonal dynamic has been in constant flux throughout the first act of the screenplay. Beginning with the opening fade changing from a room in disarray to one in pristine condition. The fire challenged the relationship between Mother and Him, but when Man entered their lives, Mother could sense her world starting to slip into unchartered waters. Then, when Woman was added, the interaction morphed from a stressed couple dealing with an interloper to two couples facing off.

Him is swayed by Man professing to be an admirer of Him’s poetry and confesses to Him that he is dying. When the intruding couple breaks a crystalline object previously shown in a place of honor, Mother demands they leave. Instead, the two adult sons of the couple arrive, Oldest Son (Domhnall Gleeson) and Younger Brother (Brian Gleeson), argue over their father’s will. It is unusual the Oldest son is defined by his relationship to his father while his fraternal relationship designates his sibling. The will leave everything to Younger Brother cutting Oldest Son completely out. A fight breaks out leaving Younger Brother mortally wounded. Oldest son flees the house. This scenario is one of the oldest, sibling rivalry escalating to lethal height. Variations are found in the Bible as well as most culturally based mythology. As the screenwriter, Mr. Aronofsky taps into this ancient plot device while as the director he places it in a familiar setting that is tinged with a distinctive disconcerting feel. The familiar tragedy ushers in an escalation of the status quo. When Youngest Brother dies, the house is inundated with a throng of strangers. The mother becomes increasingly upset finally reaching her limit when the crowd floods the house.

It seemed strange that Mother was childless, but that anomaly was about to rectified when she announces to Him that she is pregnant. This inspires Him, breaking his writer’s block. They celebrate the completion of the poem, and ultimately it is published becoming a sensation. Fans begin to flock to the house resulting in Mother isolating herself until she gives birth. What happens next is so completely unexpected and surreal that there is no way to describe the events. This is not just avoidance of spoilers. The final act is the crux of the controversial nature of the response to the film. Each of the three traditional acts of the story assumes the characteristics of a specific type story. Initially, it was a classic intrusion of a family by a disruptive outsider. That morphed into a contentious conflict between two opposing couples. Then the narrative again changes to encompass the influence of crowd, first those associated with the intruders and finally sycophants praising Him. That preface to the closing moments is like an episode of the ‘Outer Limits’ or the ‘Twilight Zone.’ This is not an easy film to watch; it requires a substantial investment in the ability to process and correlate numerous individual plot points to derive an understanding of the meaning of the story. On a personal note, I found this film well worth the effort. The emotional responses ran a broad gamut, not all pleasant but all fascinating.

Posted         01/01/2018

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