31 Days of Nightmares 2017 Edition — mother!
It’s a (nearly) yearly tradition, in which I watch a horror movie every night in October and review all of them. Most years things are pretty busy in October and I don’t get to all 31, but this year…well, this year will probably be as busy as ever. But I’m going to hit 31 this year no matter what.
Also, if you’re a horror fan or writer and you’re doing an October review-a-thon, post them to Twitter under the #31daysofhorror hashtag. I’ll try and do a weekly roundup.
On to the movies. Let’s start with Darren Aronofsky’s mother! [source: movie theater], which I technically saw a few days before October began, but that’s ok. It’s a movie that goes out of its way to defy genre categorization, but there’s a house that bleeds and a lot of terrifying imagery, so it’s safe to say there’s plenty of horror here. Now, there are two ways to approach this movie: at face value, and with an understanding of the allegory Aronofsky was using. First, let’s talk about the face value version (this is probably a good point to say my reviews do not avoid spoilers — all my reviews spoil movies, because we’re here to have interesting critical conversations, not convince each other whether or not to see the movie).
Anyway, Javier Bardem is a troubled writer whose young wife, Jennifer Lawrence, is completely restoring an old house in hopes that they will be happy and he’ll cure his writer’s block. A late night visitor is bizarrely welcomed into the home by Bardem. The visitor’s family shows up and the couple gets embroiled in an intense familial drama that ends in murder. From there, things spiral insanely out of control. I mean really insane. At one point of crowd of fans flood toward the house to celebrate Bardem’s latest work, and within minutes form an entire religion around him. Not a lot of it makes sense in a literal way, but it’s entertaining as hell to just take the ride and experience whatever the movie dishes out, all anchored by truly impressive performances by every actor involved. On that level, I loved this movie.
Of course, it’s obvious while watching that Aronofsky is trying to convey something else, and at first I wasn’t positive what it is. There are some interesting messages about the relationship between artist and audience, the price of fame, and the burdens it can place on a relationship. But Aronofsky’s vision is actually much less interesting than I was thinking. He shot the film as an allegory. Now, I think allegories are generally pretty terrible. Instead of layering meanings into a solid narrative with metaphor and symbolism, an allegory simply retells one story by representing all its elements with something else. In this case, Bardem represents God and Lawrence represents Mother Earth. The people who invade their house represent humanity, and it’s all supposed to show how terribly we mistreat the environment.
The problem is that once you realize what the allegory is, you’re just fitting the pieces into place, but there’s not much else to be discovered within the movie. The other problem is that the allegory doesn’t really work if you think about it for a few moments. Lawrence becomes pregnant after having sex with Bardem, so is she Mother Earth or the Virgin Mary? There’s a whole subplot about how prior to the conception Bardem is unable to have sex with his wife, so…remind me again what chapter of the Bible is about how God can’t get it up for planet Earth again? The movie is also cyclical — after the fiery death of Revelations, Bardem/God undoes the destruction and starts a new day with a different woman as his wife, awakening just as Lawrence did at the beginning of the movie.
That actually allows for some more interesting interpretations than just “the accelerated Bible with attractive actors,” because it suggests that our entire existence is just part of a larger cosmic cycle of creation and destruction. Indeed, the relationship between Bardem and Lawrence (and his need for human worshippers when she just wants a quiet family) begins to interrogate the motivations of a deity. “Why wasn’t I enough?” she asks. “Nothing is ever enough.” What is it that this cosmic entity is trying to achieve in these successive iterations of tragedy and catastrophe? Hey, maybe I’ve talked myself out of disliking the allegorical angle of this movie! If the allegory is a big setup to allow us to question the reason for existence itself, from the point of view of cosmic beings who control it, well, that’s pretty cool.