Reviews

TIFF 2017: mother!

Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence (IMDB)

While Aronofsky’s artistry is at an all-time-low, it's his misogyny that makes this film abhorrent.


mother!

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris
Studio: Paramount Pictures
US Release Date: 2017-09-15
... it's well known that violence against women exists, and the simple regurgitation of it on screen is not illuminating.
Shot mostly in close-ups, Darren Aronofsky’s mother! meticulously follows Jennifer Lawrence’s character, having her constantly fill the screen. Playing a young woman married to an older poet (Javier Bardem), she comes into his life after his home has burned down and she begins rebuilding his house. Despite her help and devotion to him, she is ultimately neglected.

Matters are complicated when some fans of the poet’s writing (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) arrive, which culminates in a fight between their sons -- one of them dying. To the wife’s protests, the poet continues to invite volatile people into their house, which pulsates, bleeds, and crumbles, particularly from a fleshy, vaginal-like opening in the floor which leads to a secret room in the basement. When the wife becomes pregnant, the writer begins to care for her once more -- until his new work, inspired by the conception of their baby, is finished. With the release of his book, fans once again arrive at their home, taking over their lives, and the pregnant wife must fight to gain control over her situation.

In this melodramatic relationship, the couple isolated and microcosmic, Lawrence as the titular mother is subjected to a series of abuses and torture. Initially rejected by her husband -- her needs and desires are never met while she does everything in her power to please him -- her situation only worsens as he becomes more and more interested in other people. His fans validate him, and he places their, and his own, interests above those of his wife, who meekly accepts out of a deep love for him -- a love which seems never reciprocated. Her situation becomes more dangerous as the murder occurs in her home, and as, in the third act, the fans turn the house into a literal war-zone.

Running the gamut of violence against women, the wife experiencing everything from emotional to physical abuse, mother! is very pointlessly a work of pure misogyny. Films which depict extreme abuse in order to make a point that abuse exists are not effective: it's well known that violence against women exists, and the simple regurgitation of it on screen is not illuminating. The reproduction of misogyny, without thought or solid critique, can very rarely be effective beyond its lifelessly repetitive presentation, so often indistinguishable from works of more earnest hatred. But mother! goes far beyond a simple straightforward representation of abuse.

Aronofsky’s film becomes extreme in order to depict constant trauma. It's bad enough to watch the mother trembling in fear, illness, confusion, and submission. It becomes unbearable to watch when her husband, as she insults him, forces herself on her: the rape scene turns to passion as she stops fighting back and begins to enjoy it and, taking charge, grips his body with her legs. It's equally unbearable to watch as Lawrence is beaten, punched and kicked in the face with her breasts exposed, while her attackers call her a “cunt” and a “whore”; a scene which feels more like violent porn, the pandering to a specific fetish, than anything else.

Between moments of unwatchable violence, the film is peppered with shots of Lawrence’s body. She spends much of her time wearing a sheer nightgown and is framed in medium shots so that we may see her breasts. We take up her perspective and watch as she herself looks down her shirt, this time her breasts in close-up. With such a classic adherence to the male gaze, Aronofsky’s filmmaking matches his thematic misogyny perfectly.

mother!’s violent sexism is its biggest problem, but not it's only one. Incredibly heavy-handed, and centering around a simplistic religious allegory, the narrative feels juvenile at best. Lacking real atmosphere, and so overly focused on Lawrence’s face and body that it ignores everything else, the film never creates proper tension which it so desperately needs. The anxiety the mother feels over the constant invasion of her home is just one-note frustration: from start to finish, her husband ignores her wishes, and with no progression, the evenness of conflict is boring. And the sound, designed to draw out and emphasize shrill notes to express the mother’s delirious perspective, is amateurish and unoriginal rather than a creative way of conveying a subjective sensory experience.

While Aronofsky’s artistry is at an all-time-low, it's his misogyny that makes the film abhorrent. Even if the point is to illustrate the unending slog that is patriarchal oppression, the result is a truly angry film towards women. With its disgusting, sexist abuse of the mother, Aronofsky’s film is perhaps the most hateful of 2017’s Toronto International Film Festival.

1

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image