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"Mother!" blends horror and Biblical allegory

The controversial new film is a miss that only a virtuoso like Aronofsky could make.


By Ye Lim Oh     9/19/17 9:19pm

Motherhood requires sacrifice, but does it require your everything? “Mother!” says that it does. Darren Aronofsky’s feminist rendition of “The Shining,” “Mother!” is an amusing failure that willingly exchanges perfection for cinematic extravagance.

Though the parallel with “The Shining” may be surprising, the line of reference is unmistakable: A couple settles into an enigmatic household in the middle of nowhere, while the husband (Javier Bardem), a self-absorbed writer, struggles to sustain his literary reputation in the quietude of nature. Strangers start intruding into the family’s life, threatening their well-being and, eventually, their lives.

However, Aronofsky replaces the passive, horror-stricken wife in “The Shining” with the eloquent woman in distress, performed by Jennifer Lawrence. His directorial move toward a female-centered focus is clear. The dramatic range of Lawrence’s facial expressions, along with her classically feminine figure, perfectly embody a beautiful and enduring wife caught up in a Greek tragedy.

The film also grapples with voyeurism toward women. Aronofsky ignites the voyeuristic gaze of the audience as he furnishes Lawrence’s presence to resemble a goddess from a mythological painting, her fair skin gently permeated by light and her simple Victorian attire flattering the contours of her body. This voyeuristic gaze is not only shared by the audience, but also by the strangers who enter the house. They worship her, ignore her, hail her as a Madonna or nail her as a whore, but cannot abandon the lens of dichotomy. The film is an apocalyptic allegory of female objectification; Aronofsky utilizes extensive religious and mythological symbolism to carve out a prototypical tale about the plight of woman as she enters the sphere of marriage.



Or at least that’s the impression that one has before the third act. Then, it completely blows up. I’m not talking about “The Sixth Sense” kind of plot twist that has plagued lazy Hollywood writers since the ’90s. The change is not superficial, but fundamental; the relatively composed imagery and reality that the film was building on burst into an exorbitant jumble of fantastic chaos. It has the disturbing ambience of “Requiem for a Dream,” one of Aronofsky’s earlier works, but it is more visually gratifying and relies less on shock value. Aronofsky uses all of his signature tricks, imagery and cinematic metaphors to make the final act work.

So, does it work? That’s a different story. The movie is really either a hit or a miss, depending on how much on-screen anarchy one can bear before the chaos looks more like an elaborate rumble than a lofty experiment. For me, it was a miss. I felt more amused than disturbed by Aronofsky’s cinematic circus, and the movie became a bit repetitive in its effort to outsmart the audience. However, it’s an interesting miss. It’s like an ’80s cult movie – you adore the film despite, or precisely because of, its campy charm.

Still, it’s a miss that only a virtuoso like Aronofsky could make, because a mediocre filmmaker would never have the audacity and mastery over cinematic language necessary to actualize his or her imagination to such a degree. Although I can’t give it a standing ovation, I’d say the film is a must-go for bored cinephiles searching for stimulation, good or bad.

Rating: 3.5/5

"Mother" is rated R. Showing now in theaters.

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