Directed and written by: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer
(Caveat – While I usually follow a no spoiler policy, in the opinion of the writer, the abstract, allegorical nature of this film requires hints to the themes the movie alludes to, else the viewing experience may be adversely impacted unless the viewer is ready to invest in the film twice. If the reader disagrees and wants to figure the symbolism from scratch, will you are adequately warned 😉 )
One of the reasons why I love the Mumbai Film Festival is because of the passion that I see, a teeming, motley crowd with love of cinema as the common bond, lining up with brochures, carry bags, bottles and umbrellas, with discussions ranging from the latest Cannes Winner, next awesome offering of Andrey Zvyagintsev to the current release of Hansal Mehta. The usual Holly and Bollywood cash cows takes a back seat, and for a week film discussions range from the esoteric, abstract to the comical and absurd. Who would have the thought that the commercial capital of our country, the embodiment of consumerism can transport yours truly to such an ambience, albeit for a weekend or two.
And this passion has a holy grail– the search of a few gems that can inspire, enthrall, stupefy us – not alone while looking at a laptop or mobile screen, but among hundreds of like-minded film enthusiasts gazing at a cinema screen, yes, the old-fashioned way.
I was fortunate to have experienced this in the very first film that I decided to watch in MAMI 2017. And to think, it almost didn’t happen, as I ran from my BKC office at 6.50 pm to Kurla station to catch a movie in Regal at 7.50 pm, that has to be a record of sorts (cheers to a surprisingly empty fast local!)
With apologies to my suffering readers at my sentimental ramblings, the movie in question was Darren Aronofsky’s latest offering, probably his boldest, most controversial and most risky project till date, that has divided the film world like very few films of recent time. Rare is a film that can bring out such extreme reactions, from “work of a visionary”, ëvent-movie detonation” to ”worst movie of the year”and “nimbus of nonsense”. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, I will just give a few lines of Martin Scorcese (who knows a thing or two about films) on the film – “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”.
At the surface, the seemingly innocuous plot follows a young woman whose tranquil life with her husband at their country home is disrupted by the arrival of a mysterious couple. The visitors’ family drama spills over into the house destroying the tranquility. After the guests leave, the second half turns into a surreal, delirious, disturbing nightmare where the couple’s home ends up at the center of a cult and turns into a warzone. The sequence expectedly leaves the audience disturbed and stupefied like very few film sequences (the Star Gate Sequence of 2001: Space Odyssey or the abstract films of David Lynch or Bunuel come to mind).
But the basic plot is not just the tip of the ice-berg, it’s more like the starting point of a marathon. While at the surface the film’s plot qualifies it as a psychological horror and a stark commentary on people’s sadistic pleasure in intruding into other people’s privacy. (Minor spoilers here) – However, at its core, Mother! is nothing less than 1 of the deepest allegorical films I’ve experienced, and one I would have not appreciated if I hadn’t known what to expect. It’s a tale of Biblical proportions, it’s about Mother Earth, her creator, of the dawn of man, of Adam and Eve, Cane and Abel, of the great flood, of the coming of Christ and finally of the downfall of humanity into religious fanaticism and the eventual rape of Mother Earth, stripping her off all her natural resources. Now let that sink in just a little bit. Mother! Is a microcosm of the dawn of creation to the inevitable destruction. It’s a religious commentary on the Nature of our Creator and his relationship with Earth and mankind. Unfortunately, Aronofsky doesn’t make it easy on the audience to figure out the symbolism, until the end. In today’s age of limited bandwidths, attention spans and audience’s expectation of having everything spelt out clearly, this is a dangerous tactic which has expectedly backfired.
No matter how we approach the content matter, no one can deny the technical mastery that is on display. Mother! has some of the best indoor shooting, as the camera seamlessly moves around each individual’s frame of reference and the sound design which sneaks up on us from around corners and leads us deeper into the nightmare. Irrespective of our opinion on content, Aronofsky at least shows himself as a director who is in total control of his elements. It is for no small reason the man is as venerated among actors as Nolan, even if his films have earned a fraction.
Long after the movie is over, Mother! made me ponder about our idea of God. Beyond the omnipotence and omnipresence, what is his nature, at least in human terms. Is he a benevolent being, is he a person yearning for adulation and appreciation for his achievements, just like ús mortals would behave. Is he flattered that Mankind invented religion to further his greatness? And what is his relation with his other creation that Mankind conveniently ignores, Mother Earth. Does God take Earth for granted just like mankind does. Does that make give Mother Earth a morally higher ground, as she stoically resists her exploitation for the benefit of God’s favorite creations. Is she God’s forgotten child, or does God behave so because he has higher plans for our planet. While we live in an era of scientific knowledge, the film invigorates us to rack our minds at fundamental questions of what we are in relation to the Universe.
Mother! is a film to be experienced long after the apocalypse on screen. It is meant to stupefy us, challenge us. I’ll just conclude with another quote from Scorcese “good films by real filmmakers aren’t made to be decoded, consumed or instantly comprehended”
My Rating – 4.5/5