Our MA Film group have been looking at recent cinema releases. Here Rachel Kendall, a part time second year student, shares her thoughts on Darren Aronofsky’s controversial new film, Mother!
As the credits rolled and we moved en masse to the exit a young man loudly asked no one in particular, “What did I just watch?”. I laughed. His friend laughed. A woman behind me laughed. But then he turned to me as if I had the answers and said, “Seriously though, what was that even about?”
With a film like Aronofsky’s Mother! these kind of questions can only be asked rhetorically.
For some, this film has a biblical resonance, that Poetic bleeding heart a tell-tale symbol of Catholic rhetoric. Home is where the heart is. Or in this case, the toilet. In Aronofsky’s debut, Pi, madness presents itself as a glistening brain on a staircase. In Mother! it is the very heart of a house that beats in time to stiletto heels on a wooden floor.
This is a film in two parts, Old Testament and New. If the first presents the house as prelapsarian space into which enter Adam and Eve (Harris and Pfeiffer), then the resulting descent into part two forms the lapsarian narrative. The director has stated the film looks at the rape of the earth with Lawrence as Mother Nature and Bardem as God, but ‘mother’s’ melancholic, virginal beauty rhymes more, to me, with Our Lady of Sorrows.
Her flawless, blank expression is a complete contrast to the suffering deeply etched onto the poet’s face. It puts one in mind of the Surrealists and the pedestals they placed their muses on; those brilliant, artistic women whose own creativity was never acknowledged, and for this, Mother! could be read as a discourse on the creative impulse.
But I see these themes as strands weaving into the much larger context of gender inequality. For all its allegorical bombast I think this is a film about men and women. I was reminded of that famous quote of Jerry Hall’s mother (!), that “to keep a man, you must be a maid in the living room, a cook in the kitchen and a whore in the bedroom”. Here is a woman whose only role is to serve. Where other main characters are referred to as ‘him’, ‘woman’, ‘man’ etc ‘mother’ is reduced to her role, joining the ranks of ‘loiterer’, ‘pisser’, and ‘adulterer’. She cooks, she cleans, she nurses her husband’s delicate ego. And as he blindly bathes in the adoration of his fans, she continues to paint over the cracks, cover up the bloody stains, and medicate to treat the symptoms rather than the cause.
Yet, for all her apparent frailty, she is the one keeping it all together, the heart at the heart of the story. It was she who rebuilt the poet’s house after it was destroyed by fire. Not only did she choose the fixtures and fittings, she did what many consider the ‘man’s job’, the carpentry, joinery, plumbing. She is man and woman combined. Creative, strong and nurturing, yet for all intents and purposes she is only there as recipient of the male gaze. Just as the house she created is trespassed upon, damaged, flooded and stained with blood, so she, too, is treated with contempt.
‘Mother’ is her physical appearance. She is her face, her body, a vessel. As she stands bathed in sunlight, turning to left and right as she seeks out her husband, the light shines through her white nightdress to reveal what is beneath, accentuating the curves and spaces between. Her innocent femininity has become sexualised. Throughout the film she receives various comments about her appearance – “not just a pretty face,” “I thought you were his daughter,” “nice view” – which her husband chooses not to hear. Her apparent naivety and the virtue thrust upon her by others place her firmly upon that pedestal, yet the moment she rejects a stranger’s proposition, she is ‘an arrogant cunt’. Caught between virgin and whore she is advised to try harder, ie. dress sexily, if she wants to re-ignite her husband’s passion, yet when woken from her slumber and dressed in her nightwear she is asked “Why don’t you at least put on something decent?” Her previously sexualised femininity is now vulgarised.
This film is subtler than Noah, more multifaceted than The Wrestler, more brutal than Black Swan. Taking its cue from earlier films with its point-of-view shots and shallow depth of field, Mother!’s claustrophobia is stylistically emphasised on grainy Super 16mm. While one can never be quite sure what to expect from an Aronofsky film, leaving the cinema feeling like you’ve witnessed a beautiful trauma is usually the case, and with Mother! it’s pretty much guaranteed.