Most filmgoers don’t associate the terms “horror flick” and “intriguing social metaphor.” They just go for the shocks and shrieks. But with the arrival of Darren Aronofsky‘s mother!, this dynamic is about to change.
It’s a film about dark, malicious things happening to a home and more particularly to a shaky marriage between Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, but it’s not some primal, oozy, goo-gloppy horror flick but — surprise! — a nervy, wild-ass provocation that actually qualifies as “thoughtful”. Really. Five or six people can see mother! and come out with five or six different takes, and all of them valid.
Obviously all horror flicks are signifiers of subterranean cultural undercurrents, but most stand and deliver as visceral experiences. The best ones slip into your bloodstream and before you know it you’re them. Or they’re you. mother! is visceral as hell, but you can’t watch it and not think “uhhm, this is about more than what I’m seeing on the screen…this might actually be about everything that’s happening on the planet right now.” Or not. Up to you. But it begs to be grappled with.
What happens in mother! is not entirely pretty or pleasant, but the movie is obviously a social or mythical allegory of some kind. I regard it as a portrait of the rancid, poisonous currents in our culture invading and ruining an oasis of purity and simplicity, or maybe as just a simple re-telling of the Adam and Eve saga. Some are seeing a reflection of what celebrities often go through with overly aggressive fans. The other day I called it “the single most profound explanation or dramatization of the saying that ‘hell is other people.'” Others are detecting an oblique confession of what Aronofsky may be like as a husband (i.e., self-engulfed in his artistic process, susceptible to mood swings).
Reactions are so intense and all-over-the-map that there’s only one thing to derive: mother! has to be seen.
The reaction of N.Y. Times critic A.O. Scott is one of respect and even amusement (“Don’t listen to anyone who natters on about how intense or disturbing it is — it’s a hoot!”). At the same time National Review‘s Kyle Smith has called mother! “an exercise in torture porn” and possibly “the vilest movie ever released by a major Hollywood studio.” Fantastic! Agitated French conservatives reacted with similar disdain when Luis Bunuel‘s L’Age d’Or opened in Paris in 1930, and look what happened with that one.