2017, Art Movies, Bad Situations, Bizarre Movies, Cannibalism, Cinema Knife Fights, Claustrophobic Settings, Colorful Characters, Controverisal Films, Cult Leaders, Dark Humor, Darren Aronofksy Films, Family Horror, Family Secrets, Madness, Metaphorical Films, Religious Cults, VIOLENCE!, Writers 0
Cinema Knife Fight Presents:
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: a tranquil farmhouse. Inside, MICHAEL ARRUDA sits staring blankly at his laptop. There is a knock at the door, and L.L. SOARES enters.)
L.L. SOARES: What are you still doing here? We were supposed to start our review hours ago!
MICHAEL ARRUDA (looks at LS without emotion): The words have just stopped coming.
(LS rushes forward, rips MA’s laptop from the desk, and hurls it out the window.)
MA: What— what did you do that for?
LS: Hey, writer’s block is contagious. Don’t you know that?
MA: No, I didn’t know that.
LS: Sure as hell is! So, the quicker you move on from it the better.
MA: You just threw my laptop out the window.
LS: Forget about it; you needed an upgrade anyway. Move on! Let’s get to our review. That’ll help you.
MA: I guess. It’s just that I had such high hopes. I thought a change of scenery, coming here to this quiet house in the middle of the woods, I was hoping that maybe it’d be like today’s movie MOTHER! where suddenly a bunch of fans show up at my door.
LS (looks out window): Do cows count? You’ve got a couple of cows hanging out down there. They look friendly.
MA: Shut up.
LS: Cmon! Let’s get on with our review. You start. That’ll be just the ticket for you to get out of your writer’s—I’m not even going to say it. I feel about that phrase the same way actors feel about saying Macbeth!
(GHOSTS suddenly appear, rattling chains and moaning)
GHOST 1: The Scottish play!
GHOST 2: Do not speak its name!
GHOST 3: Dare not! It’s bad luck!
LS: Okay, okay, I get it. Sorry, guys.
MA: Maybe those were my adoring fans?
(LS shakes head “No,” and MA frowns).
MA: Fair enough. (Takes a deep breath). Okay, I feel better now.
Today’s movie is MOTHER! (2017), the latest movie by writer/director Darren Aronofsky. It’s an ambitious and thought-provoking film that serves as a metaphor for our ever increasing narcissistic culture that not only breeds and encourages narcissists but the radical zealots who follow them.
LS (wearing Groucho Marx glasses): Metaphor is the secret word today, folks. But more on that later.
MA: There’s a lot going on here, most of it not that easy to digest or decipher, and since the trailer for this movie makes it look like a modern-day ROSEMARY’S BABY, which it is not, I’m guessing there’s going to be a whole lot of disappointed moviegoers out there who decide to see this movie. It’s not really a horror movie, in the traditional sense.
LS: No, it’s not. The trailer is misleading, but it really looks like that was intentional, marketing it that way. The IT fans are going to be a little disappointed, though, when they find out that they’ve stepped into a dreaded art movie! That may be the scariest thing of all about MOTHER!
MA: But that shouldn’t stop you from seeing this one. Any time a movie makes you think and think hard, and goes about its storytelling in a way that is creative and out of the ordinary, that’s a good thing. MOTHER! is a good thing. It’s just not going to appeal to a wide audience.
(There’s a knock at the door. MA opens it)
MA: Who are you?
MAN: My name is Simile, I’m looking for my brother, Met…
MA: No need to say his name. This is going to get repetitive fast if you do.
SIMILE: He’s mom’s favorite, the twit. (Petulantly) Well, have you seen him?
MA: Have I!
SIMILIE: Well, where is he?
LS: Get out of here, you jerk. Like, scram.
(Slams the door in SIMILE’s face)
LS: That’s what Jennifer Lawrence should have done early on in this movie. But back to our review.
(SIMILE continues to pound on the door from outside, but our heroes ignore him)
MA: MOTHER! tells a straightforward story. A woman (Jennifer Lawrence, Katniss in the HUNGER GAMES movies, of course, and Oscar winner for SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, 2012) lives in her quiet dream house with her author husband (Javier Bardem, also Anton Chigurh in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, 2007, and in SKYFALL, 2012, and PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES, 2017) who’s stuck in a writer’s funk and has been struggling to produce new material.
One night, a man (Ed Harris, also in THE ABYSS, 1989, THE TRUMAN SHOW, 1998, POLLOCK, 2000 and more recently the Man in Black in HBO’s series WESTWORLD) shows up at their door, and to the woman’s surprise, her husband invites the man to stay the night. It turns out that the man is a huge fan of the writer, and this pleases him to no end. Soon, the man’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer, also in SCARFACE, 1983, THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK, 1987, and she was Catwoman in BATMAN RETURNS, 1992) arrives as well, and naturally, she’s invited to stay too.
LS: These two people are really annoying. The only way I can describe them is to call them complete assholes. While the writer eats up their adoration, they treat his wife like crap, especially Michelle Pfeiffer’s character. By the time their asshole sons show up, I thought this movie was a great commercial for gun ownership.
Which takes me to a point I’ve made before. If you live in the middle of the woods away from most civilization and are pretty vulnerable, and the police aren’t likely to arrive anytime soon if you need them, buy a friggin gun! I’m not a gun nut, but it would make life for these characters a lot easier. If Jennifer Lawrence had a gun in MOTHER! and waved it around a little, these very irritating guests would have left a whole lot sooner. Just sayin’.
MA: Things happen that result in more people arriving, people who make the woman uncomfortable, because this isn’t what she expects. She wants her life in her house alone with her husband, yet her husband is fine with opening up their house to these guests. She grows more distressed as more people arrive. And later, when a lot of people arrive, all hell breaks loose.
LS: It’s not like Jennifer Lawrence’s character is some uptight jerk who is overreacting. These guests are grating! Did I mention they were assholes?
MA: In terms of plot, the story is constructed very well, or at least the first half is, anyway. When Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer arrive, their arrival makes perfect sense. Likewise, the reason why, later, many of their family members arrive, that also makes perfect sense. So, it’s not as if the audience is sitting there scratching their heads wondering why these people are there. It strikes Jennifer Lawrence’s character as strange, but when Javier Bardem’s character explains things to her, we in the audience understand.
LS: It’s not difficult to understand the husband’s reaction. He’s an enabler for these irritating people because they adore him. Jennifer Lawrence’s character, who is simply listed as “Mother” in the credits, is either ignored or insulted throughout. I was completely on her side on this one, even if the husband (called just “Him” in the credits, or “The Great Poet” by his fans) isn’t completely alien to me either. As a creative person, and specifically a writer, I am somewhat sympathetic to “Him” as well. But man, his fans are assholes!
MA: Later, in the second half of the movie, the film deviates from a straightforward plot and enters into the realm of pure metaphor. And it’s here where the film will no doubt lose most of its audience.
(After a long silence there is a knock at the door again. LS answers it))
WOMAN: Hello, is my husband here?
MA: Err, are you sure you’re a woman.
LS: You look like Simile in a wig and lipstick.
SIMILE: I have no idea what you boys are talking about. But you’re quite rude. I am here to see my husband, Meta..
MA: No need to say his name.
LS: Get lost (slams the door closed again).
MA: But through it all, MOTHER! remains truthful and has a lot to say.
First of all, this is not a good movie for authors who want to get married, because if there’s one message that comes through loud and clear, it’s what it’s like to be married to an author. Now, this isn’t the point of the movie, but it’s certainly one of the parts I liked, because there’s truth behind it.
LS: Sure there is. If you’re a creator, if you’re a writer, then there’s a part of you that’s going to be closed off to the outside world – the part that creates. Writing, especially is a very solitary process. Painting is, too. Luckily, I’m married to a woman who is also a writer, so she gets it. But spouses who aren’t artists as well are going to feel alienated at times. It’s just a fact of life.
MA: You’re saying you’re married? I thought in Cinema Knife Fight World, that reality stuff didn’t seep in.
LS: Forget I said anything. And BRING ON THE STRIPPERS.
(MA opens the door)
MA: No strippers here.
LS (grumbling): Just get on with the review, goofy.
MA: Javier Bardem captures what it’s like to be a writer. You can see it in his face when he can’t produce, and alternatively, you can see him light up when the ideas come to him and when his fans tell him how much they like his work. The bottom line is, for this character, life is always about him and his work. His wife, though he says he loves her and indeed acts like he loves her, is always secondary. Jennifer Lawrence has a great line when she says that he never really loved her, and that he only loved the fact that she loved him. A telling and truthful moment.
LS: And it’s no coincidence that the house is quiet and empty when the movie begins, when “He” is going through a bout of writers block, and that he gets more creative the more other people fill up the house. But that’s all just a matter of meta…
MA: Don’t say it.
(GHOSTS appear, screaming)
GHOST 1: He said the name again!
GHOST 2: The Scottish play shall not be named!
GHOST 3: We writhe in torment every time you say its name.
LS: Too bad for you. Now get out of here.
(GHOSTS fade away)
MA: But MOTHER! is much more than just a story about an author. Javier Bardem’s husband character is a narcissist. He’s driven by the attention he receives from his adoring fans. In the movie, it begins with the simple conversation between his character and the Ed Harris character, who admits to being a fan and who says “your words changed my life.” From there it grows, slowly at first, until the second half of the movie, when it becomes full-blown insanity.
In the second half of the movie, people come to the house because they are fans, and it’s here that the plot becomes secondary and the metaphoric elements of the film take over. We see varying degrees of fandom, but most are radical followers. The film then serves us images which are religious, militant, violent, and flat-out horrific.
LS: The horrific stuff starts early on, when “Mother” is cleaning up a bloody stain on the floor that won’t clean up. She just scrubs it over and over again.
MA: Kind of like Lady Macbeth.
(GHOSTS become visible)
GHOST 1: Now the other idiot said it!
GHOST 2: Will we never be left in peace?
GHOST 3: Stop saying the name of the Scottish play!
(LS laughs loudly)
MA (shrugs): Sorry…
In a nutshell, the film shows what life is like living with a narcissist. But, more than that, the images at the end of the movie, of violence, hatred, of opposing sides clashing, easily brought to my mind images that we have seen on the news of events here in the U.S. in 2017, which for me, lifted this movie to another level, because what I took from it by the end, was that it’s a metaphor for what life is like when you elect a narcissist.
LS: Hey, hey. I thought we didn’t get political here in Cinema Knife Fight World.
MA: Forget I said anything. (Hesitates, then shouts) BRING ON THE STRIPPERS!
LS: Hey, that’s my line! It says it right here (pull out script).
MA: But not all of the movie works. I had an issue with the pacing. It runs at about two hours long, and there were times midway through where it felt longer than that.
Jennifer Lawrence is fine as the young mother here, in a role where she spends half of the film barefoot and pregnant. And since this movie is called MOTHER! after all, her character is the one audiences will identify with the most. The story is seen through her eyes, and so when she is upset about the things that are going on, the audience is right there with her. And by the time you get to the end, with all the different sides going at each other, she’s the one who’s hurt the most. She becomes the victim of both her husband’s actions and inactions.
It’s a good performance, but I was actually more impressed with Javier Bardem as the author/husband. He always seemed to make sense when he spoke to his wife, yet at the same time it was maddening to watch him pretty much ignore his wife’s needs.
LS: It was maddening, but it worked.
MA: Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer add fine support in their roles as the annoying intrusive couple, especially Pfeiffer who exudes a coldness that really fits with the movie. But Harris is just as good, as the more emotional half of this couple.
LS: Is it just me, or does it seem like we haven’t seen Pfeiffer in a long time? I was so happy to see her back in a movie again, and she was perfect here.
MA: No, we haven’t seen much of Pfeiffer lately. The last movie I saw her in was THE FAMILY (2013), a weird comedy with Robert De Niro about a mafia family in the witness protection program, with the running joke being that they couldn’t lay low because they were always killing people or blowing places up in their daily routines. She and De Niro were good, but the film was a mixed bag.
Before that she was in the forgettable DARK SHADOWS (2012) reboot with Johnny Depp. Of course, we’re going to see her again soon in the upcoming remake of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017) by Kenneth Branagh.
LS: Good. The more Pfeiffer, the better.
But yeah, the cast is really good. Harris and Pfeiffer actually have an “arc of assholery” where they get increasingly more irritating as the story goes along. By the time they break something of great importance to “Him” in the story, and he goes ballistic, I really loved that he was finally showing some anger toward these morons. But the anger is short-lived, sadly.
MA: The rest of the cast is secondary.
LS: Domnhall Gleeson (EX MACHINA, 2014, and THE REVENANT, 2015) and Brian Gleeson (SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, 2012, and LOGAN LUCKY, 2017), real life brothers (and sons of actor Brendan Gleeson) aren’t in it as much as Harris and Pfeiffer, but they’re almost as annoying when they show up as their combative sons. I wanted to kick their heads in.
Even the people in smaller roles are really good here, though. Like Stephen McHattie (also in PONTYPOOL, 2008 and WATCHMEN, 2009, as well as being P.T. Westmorland in the final season of ORPHAN BLACK, 2017) as a kind of high priest of the religion of “Him.” But everyone’s fine, even if most of them are beyond annoying.
MA: The main guy here is writer/director Darren Aronofsky, who’s mostly known for the movie BLACK SWAN (2010), a dark movie that was well received and that I liked well enough. Previous to MOTHER!, he wrote and directed NOAH (2014), a re-telling of the Noah and the Ark story, starring Russell Crowe as Noah which tried to turn Noah into an action hero. It was a misfire, but I actually enjoyed it.
LS: I like all his movies. Some other great ones were THE WRESTLER (2008), the underrated THE FOUNTAIN (2006), and my favorite of his films, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000), based on the novel by Hubert Selby Jr. Hell, I’ve been a fan of Aronofsky’s since his first feature film, PI (1998), and haven’t disliked one of his movies yet. Even his misfire NOAH was fun, and it had some cool rock monsters!
MA: MOTHER! is a film that most folks are simply not going to enjoy. It’s not your standard horror movie or drama, and it becomes highly symbolic during its second half, which is bound to turn off lots of viewers. But I liked it. It has a lot to say about narcissism in our culture, both about those who desire and command attention, and about those who relentlessly become their “followers.”
Better yet, it tells the truth, even when that truth is ugly and repugnant.
I give it three knives.
LS: I enjoyed MOTHER! a lot as well, and I even really enjoyed the performances by actors playing very annoying characters, because there are real people like this. But I had kind of mixed feelings it overall. While I think it’s a very good movie, the metaphors get a bit heavy-handed at times, and it just didn’t seem as well-crafted as some of his best films.
But I give it three knives as well. Despite its flaws, it’s still a strong work by Aronofksy.
LS: So we’re done. We can get out of this stupid farmhouse now.
MA: No, I want to stay. Do some writing. See if any fans show up.
LS (looks outside): Nope, still just cows.
COW (chewing its cud): Stop whining and review another mOOOOOOOOOOvie.
© Copyright 2017 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives MOTHER! ~ three knives!
LL Soares gives MOTHER! ~three knives, as well.