A Total Waste of Perfectly Good JLaw - mother!

A Total Waste of Perfectly Good JLaw - mother!

I didn't hate this movie; I just hated the experience of watching it. Darren Aronofsky's much-hyped passion project has arrived and after much buildup, it is certainly a sight to behold. It would be hard to walk away from the experience without feeling something, but more than anything, I felt a certain disdain for its overwrought construction and decidedly one-sided point of view. Nothing in this Biblical allegory feels subtle, which is a shame when the setup had so much promise. Aronofsky as a capital-A Atheist is the headline here, and he will make sure you don't forget. That said, this type of original content is exactly what is missing from the cinematic landscape, so I hope that we continue to see directors swing for the fences--even if the result is something short of the brilliance it thinks it possesses. 

 Photo Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Photo Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

The opening shots of the film show the aftermath of a fire. Seconds later, we see Mother (played quite capably by Jennifer Lawrence). She is eventually greeted by Him (played by Javier Bardem), her poet husband, with whom she shares a large house they are working to restore after a fire. When a random doctor knocks at the door, the husband and wife struggle with how hospitable they should be to this stranger. A day later, the man's wife joins and Mother starts to feel uncomfortable with the behavior of her new houseguests. 

As time goes on, more and more people come into the house for various reasons, eventually leading to all out chaos. There are shots fired, babies killed (and eaten), furniture dismantled and general mayhem all around. The film ends with a fire that starts the process over and gives us a different Mother to experience the story. 

 Photo Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Photo Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

First, the basics. Mother is Mother Nature, Him is God, the husband and wife who visit are Adam and Eve. The sons of the visiting couple are Cain and Abel and the entire movie operates as an allegory for the story of creation and the ills man has caused on the Earth. When you figure all of this out may weigh heavily on how much you ultimately enjoy the final product. My issue was that none of this did anything to save us from waifish characters and only minimal attempts to tell a story. We just see character after character behave in increasingly bizarre ways and have little to root for other than the credits. 

Over-the-top can be fine; it can even be enjoyable. A slow build toward this type of chaos can be a fun ride if managed properly. But in this case, I never really felt engaged. When you take me on a journey, I either need to know where I am going or trust that the destination is worth it. It's like being blindfolded on trip around the world, with no sense as to whether you are headed to Paris or Pittsburgh. And when you finally end up somewhere in between, you're disappointed that it took so long and the buildup wasn't quite justified. That's the best way I can describe this ride Aronofsky takes the audience on. Many will be predictably unsatisfied, no matter how the outlandish final sequences strike them. In the end, his sole point seems to be that a vain God created us in his image and we have ruined the Earth in a way that can only be fixed by starting over. 

 Photo Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Photo Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

All of that being said, Jennifer Lawrence is terrific in an uncommonly deep role for her. She's pulling off maternal and grounded in a way that doesn't just rely on speeches. Her every look is meant to give the audience its cue to feel a certain way. The only problem is that none of this really connects in the end. I never felt like this character had agency and existed solely to serve the self-indulgent philosophical musings of the Aronofsky. He deserves points for ambition. He made a film that decided that the only color it needed in its proverbial repertoire is red. Everything is intense and magnified to absurdist proportions. He tells a story with a point of view and a decidedly anti-religion bend. On their own, all of these things work--it's just that the experience of sitting in a theater chair for these two hours doesn't. 

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