Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is that rare movie that comes along every once in a while, a completely polarizing event that you have to experience, even if you ultimately think it is a train wreck. Count me among the admirers of a movie that is 69% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes but drew an ‘F’ on CinemaScore. The director of such films as The Wrestler, Black Swan, The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream, Noah and others doesn’t care about either group, but wears the disparate opinions they tout as a badge of honor.
No less than Martin Scorsese wrote a guest column praising mother!, while condemning services like Rotten Tomatoes and CinemaScore, which help put movies in a neat box, noting that this kind of judgmentalism has made opening weekend grosses into a “bloodthirsty spectator sport” that sets a tone hostile toward serious filmmakers.
“After I had a chance to see mother!, I was even more disturbed by this rush to judgement … People seemed to be out for blood, simply because the film couldn’t be easily defined or interpreted, or reduced to a two-word description … Only a true, passionate filmmaker could have made this picture, which I’m still experiencing weeks after I saw it,” he wrote. mother! is a movie you can’t get out of your head. It stars Jennifer Lawrence in the title role as a married woman who soon finds her home and personal space invaded in ways that might only be described as surreal.
Aronofsky does, however, seem to understand why people might react differently to the film.
“It is so intense that when you walk out of it, it takes a minute to process. It is the hardest movie in the world to do Q&As for afterwards because people don’t want to make eye contact with you,” he laughs, adding that it is because it is a reflection, as well as cautionary tale. “We see ourselves in the film. We’re the people. As much as we’re identifying with [Jennifer Lawrence’s character], we’re seeing reflections of everything that’s sort of going on with ourselves. So it’s a hard thing to sort of then go say, ‘I’m definitely going to recommend this to a friend.’”
Aronofsky says he doesn’t make pure genre films, although critics want to label this and films like Black Swan horror movies of a certain sort. “The thing I loved about mother!, for me, was that an audience can think it’s one type of movie, and then it becomes another type of movie, and then it becomes another type of movie, and for me I can’t think of a more exciting thing in cinema, and I have always followed that.”
Certainly, viewers and critics have been debating just exactly what mother! is about. Is it a biblical parable, an environmental warning, a chamber drama, a horror film in the vein of Rosemary’s Baby? To listen to Aronofsky, it is a little bit of it all, even if he doesn’t agree with my comparison to Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (at least for the first half, before it all literally goes to hell). “I was really playing out the allegory with these real characters, and I was saying first man, first woman come into this Eden, and they show disregard, and everyone shows a certain type of assumption that they’re welcome, which is the assumption that we as humans feel,” he explains about his inspiration. “We’re told we have dominion over nature, and often we don’t think about Genesis 2:15, where we’re supposed to actually respect and tend and care for the garden as well. And that’s where the problems start. The two big lessons in kindergarten—share and clean up your mess— are the two things we just never learned.”
There you have it. Figuring out the meaning of Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is as simple as a kindergarten lesson.