By Sebastian Moronta Blanco, Staff Writer
From time to time a film comes along that is so densely composed with metaphor and artistic license that it challenges audiences to argue over the precise meaning of the symbolism and themes throughout, and the latest is relentlessly disturbing.
Mother! is the latest film by Darren Aronofsky, known for psychological thrillers Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan.
The film stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as the nameless inhabitants of a tranquil home in the wilderness.
The arrival of visitors disrupts their peaceful existence, and puts their marriage to the test.
The story begins with Lawrence and Bardem living alone in their home, described in the film as “paradise.”
Bardem is a poet, stricken with writer’s block while Lawrence plays his wife, who spends her days restoring their home as it was destroyed by a fire long ago.
The arrival of a man and later his wife, played by Ed Harris and Michelle Phieffer, respectively, nestles the story firmly within the framework of a home invasion horror film, at least for the first act.
Everything is shown from Lawrence’s point of view, and she becomes the subject of a brutal and unsettling nightmare.
The film is highly allegorical, and draws clear parallels to the Bible, nature, and humanity’s effect on it, as well as various novels and other forms of literature.
Bardem is a creator, and an allegory for the Judeo-Christian god, while Lawrence represents Mother Earth.
The film plays out several stories from both the Old and New Testament. While this is the allegory as described in part by the film’s creator, mother! lends itself to numerous interpretations.
The symbolism is often on-the-nose and heavy-handed, with several elements that illustrate their meaning so overtly, and so grotesquely, that viewers are so consumed by the striking images the original meaning is sometimes lost. That is the central conflict that is critical to the reception of a piece like mother!
Is the savagery, the cynical and grandiose portrayal of humanity as depicted in this film justified by the greater meaning?
Is there no limit to the abuse and torment both the performers and audience can suffer in the name of art? Audiences seem to think that there is.
Response to the film has been polarized. The scenes of appalling violence and intensely disturbing imagery horrified audiences, many of which left prematurely out of disgust.
Cinemascore, the film rating aggregate based solely on audience reviews, gave the film a rare “F” rating.
The film bombed at the box office, pulling in a measly 7.5 million dollars, easily shoved aside by IT, the Stephen King thriller.
A possible explanation to the poor audience reception of the film could be Paramount Pictures’ decision to market the film as a horror film, one that greatly misled viewers into believing this would fit into the mold of other horror films of the day.
Critics, however, are split, the film’s Rotten Tomatoes score sitting at a positive 68 percent. Many praised the performances, primarily that of Lawrence and Phieffer, as well as the masterful composition of the film.
Yet, other critics assailed mother! Kyle Smith of the National Review called it “a biblically-infused version of torture porn” while others called it “pretentious” and “self-indulgent.”
The film’s unbridled depiction of religious stories has deeply angered members of the religious communities from which the stories are pulled, and its depiction of violence particularly toward Lawrence’s character and others later in the film can be deeply unnerving.
As such, this film is not for the faint of heart, and moviegoers should exercise caution while seeing mother!
One quality of this film, regardless of interpretation, holds true: This film will undoubtedly incite debate and discussion for long after it leaves theaters.
Check out mother! in theaters and see for yourself.