One of America’s most controversial mainstream directors just released a new film, so you can bet your lucky stars everyone in the movieverse is talking about it.
Darren Aronofsky’s relationship with Hollywood over his career has been a little, shall we say, all over the place. Despite picking up a whole bunch of Oscar nominations a few years on the trot with Mickey Rourke drama The Wrestler and the ultra-intense psychological horror Black Swan, his other work has often been seen as being a little bit too on the arty side. And then there was his closest shot at blockbuster entertainment – huge scale biblical epic Noah, that took the famous Ark-based story and added Russell Crowe, Ray Winstone and, oh yeah, friggin’ rock monsters.
And yet somehow, Aronofsky’s latest cinematic mission, the brain-guzzling genesis parable Mother!, seems to have ended up with the most divisive reception of the bunch. Despite picking up the lowest CinemaScore rating possible and totally floundering at the box office, with one of the worst high profile opening weekends of the year, the Jennifer Lawrence starrer is still hitting big with critics. With 4 stars from Mark Kermode at The Guardian, 5 stars from Robbie Collin at The Telegraph and a totally respectable, 68% fresh Rotten Tomatoes score, the critic/audience divide rarely ever feels this strong. But here’s guessing the nature of the film in question has a lot to do with it.
I mean, it seems silly to even point it out by this stage but, for the still uninitiated, Mother! is not a straightforward movie. Not even a little bit. Whatever dregs of a plot it does have are all one million percent steeped in allegory. The whole thing is a metaphor. And what exactly it’s a metaphor of is entirely up to you. Most people, this writer included, (and this could be considered a spoiler so avert your eyes if you’re fearful of them) seem to think it’s about God and his relationship with Mother Nature/Earth. But to be brutally honest, it could mean anything. It’s totally understandable then that so many audiences wanting a Black Swan style thriller, with huge stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, are coming away totally confused and fairly pissed off. I guess you could point the finger at the film’s marketing, and claim the trailers etc. made Mother! seem like any other run-of-the-mill drama, but you’d almost definitely have trouble finding a leg to stand on in that debate. Especially considering the film’s first poster was literally a painting of J-Law ripping out her own god-damn heart (I mean if that doesn’t scream “mega dark and totally unusual psychological horror” I don’t know what does).
The studio behind the movie, Paramount, have already come out and defended it, citing Aronofsky’s bravery and talent, which definitely speaks volumes. The problem here isn’t in the quality of the film, or even really in what audiences were expecting from the attached trailers, but more with whatever the hell the mainstream cinema-going public actually want to see at the end of the day.
It’s bigger scares and Guardians of the Galaxy’s more wild-eyed, up-tempo craziness have both been cited as major influences on their respective box office successes. And when you sidle that up against the fifth Transformers, the umpteenth Mummy and yet another 80s TV reboot (Baywatch) all underperforming, it’s clear that the crowds are angling for something different. With a whole internet of people constantly screaming at the “Hollywood machine” for churning out the same tat year after year it’s no surprise. But it’s definitely still a question of just how much difference they’re willing to take. Some weird-looking aliens and a totally different style of soundtrack? Sure. Grittier and more hard-nosed, R-rated superhero violence? Sign us up! But a hyper-dark, largely meandering, and entirely allegorical thriller about obsession and creation? Too far.
Finding a worldwide blockbuster hit is nowhere near a perfect science. Just when you think a tried and tested Hollywood formula has hit the skids, it could randomly be hailed as a masterpiece in China (like 2013’s Pacific Rim for example). And equally, vice versa: a bold choice that’s never really settled well at the American box office could suddenly flip the market almost overnight (female-lead and female-directed actioner Wonder Woman just surpassed $800 million worldwide). There’s no real way of predicting what’s going to do well and what the next biggest trend is going to be, but it seems safe to say that Mother! definitely isn’t it.
That doesn’t make it a bad film though, or warrant the seething hatred it’s received. What Aronofsky has created here is something totally odd and against the grain of what audiences are used to. Naturally, it’s not going to be for everyone. But there’s no denying that there’s a real sense of craftsmanship, and some serious solid meaning hidden within Mother!’s carefully constructed pages. It is confusing, it is frustrating and it is totally vicious and unrelenting at times, but these are all things that should be celebrated. Mother! was made with studio money, and with mainstream stars; we can’t demand that Hollywood makes something different for a change, and then crucify them when they finally do.
So love it or loathe it, it’s difficult not to have an opinion with a film like this – tweet us your thoughts any time!
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