Venice Film Festival: mother!

Venezia 74
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson and Ed Harris
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by Joanna Orland

Is mother! Darren Aronofsky’s worst film to date? (No, but it’s a close second.)

In what can only be described as pretentious nonsense (and that is putting it kindly), mother! is an abstract attempt at metaphysical poetry, much like The Fountain, and Aronofsky’s debut Pi. We should have realized with Pi what we’d be in for with future Aronofsky. But while Pi shows an inkling of what’s to come in the pretentiousness of his later films, there was still something refreshing in it, enough to peak our interest to give this director a chance to develop further. With his second film Requiem for a Dream, he created a masterpiece, in what remains one of my favourite films of all time. With its success came too much artistic freedom for Aronofsky, freedom which had to be reeled in after the disastrous The Fountain, hence his very low key comeback of The Wrestler. Its success allowed a bit less restraint for Black Swan, whose resounding success leads us back to a film much like The Fountain – an unhinged Aronofsky who tries to take on subject matter grander than he can, or even should, take on; it leaves us with a huge antagonistic mess of a film.

Nameless ‘mother’ Jennifer Lawrence wanders around her house in a dreamlike state, reminiscent of one’s experience attending a Punchdrunk theatre production. Her husband played by Javier Bardem is overly hospitable as he welcomes in guests to their home – guests who idolize him. She is his ‘goddess’ as he often refers to her. She wanders the house, tending to everyone’s needs, subservient to her husband even when he goes against her wishes, she is always fixing or cleaning the house in some form. She has a special connection to the house; weird imagery of blood, ash, rot, fire, water is dispersed throughout the film.

This is not the ghost story it could have been, nor the deeply existential film it tries to be: It is a biblical allegory and environmental prophecy without any true purpose for its own story. Why Aronofsky thought to modernise such well-trodden material without giving it any new meaning is beyond me. If anything, he made it remarkably incomprehensible and tortuously unbearable – there is no plot, no character development, no motivation for anything that’s happening, and it is annoyingly loud. An allegorical story can be thought-provoking and deeply meaningful, but an allegory without a story is mere drivel.

I’ll never be able to write an objective review of an Aronofsky film without revisiting The Fountain, and now mother!. I’m pretty tired of this kind of holier-than-thou Aronofsky movie, and so are many other filmgoers based on the loud jeers the filmed received after its Venice Film Festival screening.

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