Darren Aronofsky's 'Mother!': An Exercise in Ambition
I can't remember the last time I saw a movie so specifically designed to invite and encourage outrage from the audience. To watch Mother! is to accept that and bear the consequences. I think regardless of how you feel about the movie, it's pretty exciting to see a movie get people this riled up, right?
That said, far more interesting than the outrage itself are the techniques that Aronofsky uses to incite it. By placing his protagonist in a position of powerlessness, he's able to build feelings of frustration and isolation from the very beginning of the movie. The pacing of the first hour is not great; he drags things out just a bit too long and, as a result, the machinations of the film's narrative begin to feel far too exposed and unnecessarily repetitive.
But whereas the first hour of the film is restrained as a way of encouraging the audience's frustration, the second hour offers an onslaught of terrors that are increasingly unbelievable. Aronofsky's insistence on pushing the limits of what his protagonist endures is a stark contrast to the first half of the film. There is a clear choice made to contrast the stark emptiness of the house in the first hour - emphasized by the creaking floors, empty rooms, echoing voices - with the outright pollution and chaos exhibited during the second hour.
While clearly difficult to take in, the sequence where Aronofsky takes the house from an out of control house party to post-apocalyptic war zone is really masterful (and it almost pains me to say that?). It embodies the best of what he's capable of doing with Mother! It's wildly ambitious, technically skilled, and intensely emotional. But it does stretch the limits of what an audience is willing to do for a movie.
Every piece of fiction demands us to surrender a little bit, to suspend our disbelief for the sake of the medium. Mother!really raises the question of how far an audience will go before turning back. Given the wildly mixed response to the movie, it's clear that for some Mother! just goes too far or doesn't achieve anything by the time it gets to where it's going - those feelings are absolutely justified. If you ask me, there's something pretty admirable about the how high Aronofsky is reaching here.
As for what the message of the film is, I'm pretty disinterested in what Aronofsky intended. I say that because I think the story operates well as a metaphor for several different things; so, the inference that Mother! is strictly an allegory for one thing is too limiting for me as a viewer. I think Mother! operates as a metaphor for our treatment of the earth and the environment, for love, marriage, and the homes we create for ourselves, and for the impact of fame and celebrity.
That said, I'm not sure Mother! ever actually completes the metaphor. It certainly takes on all of these topics in one way or another, but it can't stick the landing. I can't decide if that's because Aronofsky simply doesn't know how or if it's because the constraints of the narrative don't allow for it (maybe it's both!). Still, even though it falls a bit short, it's still left me in awe watching the attempt.