Darren Aronofsky's mother! has everyone in their feelings.
There is no denying that mother! (2017) has plenty to say, but what exactly is putting critics and audiences at odds? Some think it's over-indulgent, some think it's too artsy and should have been marketed as an indie, art-house film, and some went in thinking it was supposed to be a slasher film featuring Jennifer Lawrence as a damsel-in-distress.
For the first hour, I'll admit, I was lost, somewhat expecting the film to inhabit a modern day Stepford Wives (1975) or Get Out (2016) only to be pulled back into Aronofsky's chaotic, claustrophobic vision. What's allegorical? What's biblical? What's just the poetic skill of Aronofsky behind the camera —again— I cannot provide you with answers. In return, I'll detail the mini, emotional explosion I had about halfway through the film that put mother! into clearer focus. I'm riding on a frenzy of feelings having just seen the film, and I think — or at least am slightly suspicious — that mother! is a feminist, psychological thriller (emphasis on the feminism). It's also a body horror film with the emotional build-up of a David Lynch or David Cronenberg picture. So, yes, you're in for a ride if you happen upon mother! for a causal viewing, a cerebral, are-you-kidding-me ride.
mother!, on the surface, follows the story of an unnamed, young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) who spends her days as a housewife and homemaker while dodging comments by other women questioning why she isn't also a baby-maker. Her husband (Javier Bardem), who is also nameless, is a poet experiencing a nasty writer's block, riding on the fame of a book published years ago. You'll find that her impulsivity to please her husband is nauseating after a while, not because of feminism, but because of her husband's lack of empathy, compassion, and overall lack of respect for his wife. He welcomes strangers into the house against his wife's wishes and continues to support their outrageous behavior, not once checking to see if she's cool with it all. She's not. No one would be. Whether you're a man or a woman, there's no denying the slow-cooking empathy you'll begin to have for the wife, and the slow-cooking rage you'll have for everyone else.
The wife is as submissive, as feminine, as docile, as quiet, as cute, as successful (but not too successful to threaten her husband's ego), and as generous as a woman —excuse me— as a human can be. She is the archetype of a loving, nurturing housewife and she is still not enough to satisfy her husband (who really, really loves attention).
In its final hour, mother! crept up on me, like a poem would, and I had to stop myself from projecting my own experiences and feminist ideology onto the film, until I was no longer projecting, and simply experiencing pure empathy, pain, and heartbreak for another human. I began to breathe heavily as if I was having a panic attack and suddenly felt tears running down my cheeks. I watched, in horror and in ecstasy, the insanity the wife experiences and her unrelenting strength and dedication to fight for her family.
I commend Aronofsky for depicting the irony of a woman (pulled from a 1950's how-to-be-a-wife manual) doing everything in her power to build and protect her home as her husband indulges everyone but her, creating messes around the house for her to clean. For women who are called selfish for not wanting kids, for women that have been called unimaginable slurs because they deflected unwanted attention, for women who were physically abused because they fought against unwanted advances, and the for the women who give and give and give until they no longer can, mother! is a modern-day battlecry.
mother! isn't a feminist film that screams, "Men bad! Women good!" It's not the type of feminist film that's going to make you read the literature of Gloria Steinem and Simone de Beauvoir, though, these women would be great supplementary texts to engage with before heading to the theater. It's the type of feminist film that shows the sacrifices women and mothers make in their (heterosexual) relationships and homes that can quickly become inherently violent and devastating to their mental and physical health when not met with equal sacrifice and generosity from their male counterparts. It's a film that shows the raw and horrible ways mothers sacrifice their bodies and hearts for their children and husbands, only to be disposed of for more naive and younger replacements. Is mother! a horror film? Yes and no. What's scariest about mother! is the insane, uncompromising love of a mother.
Shaun Harris is a poet, freelance writer, and editor published in avant-garde, feminist journals. Lover of warm-toned makeup palettes, psych-rock, and Hilton Als. Her work has allowed her to copyedit and curate content for various poetry organizations in the NYC area.
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