(2017, Darren Aronofsky)
Forget the allegories, forget the explanations, forget the interpretations. These are uninteresting because metaphors are boring. Metaphors are what you get excited about back in school when you were asked to interpret what the the colour red signified or what that object represented or what that line of dialogue foreshadowed. No one really cares. It’s just a colour, it’s just an object and it’s just a line. It is what it is.
So let’s talk about what mother! is. It takes place inside a grand old home. It is charming, homely and the surfaces are imbued with a sense of history. But we are seeing it in the middle of it’s reinvention. Some rooms have an unfinished quality to them. Jennifer Lawrence plays the mother. As her writer husband continues to struggle with his new book, she is busy on a project on her own: rebuilding the home they share. She goes about this task all on her own. In an early scene, we see her carefully selecting a wall colour. She mixes the paint and applies a patch on the wall with a knife.
The sound design is extremely heightened throughout the entire movie but I noticed it first in this scene. The squelch of the wet paint and the sharp, gravelly sound of the knife on the wall gives a sonic experience that highlights the intimacy between the viewer and mother. Every sense hones to her and her experience. What she sees, hears and feels is felt with the same intensity by us. Her inner world is readily available to us thanks to Lawrence’s generous and perceptive performance. Her face is very explicit. When she pours pigments on the paint and she achieves a new shade of colour, her satisfaction become ours.
This extreme subjectivity is helped by the brilliant camerawork. The camera rarely pulls farther than a medium shot. Almost all of the shots are composed as a close-up, a point-of-view or a behind-the-shoulder. When there is no need for a cut, the camera simply pans to the direction where Lawrence is turning to. At one of the wonderfully hysterical climaxes (yes there are multiple climaxes) the camerawork gets so manic to the point that it was dizzying. I had a big fat smile on my face. There’s something admirable about a movie that isn’t afraid to fling its audience out to crazy space.
Now, back to my point about metaphors and allergories. There is so much potent imagery in this film that it’s very difficult not to interpret and assign meanings to them. Aronofsky’s previous films were also as allegory-heavy as this one. But as stated earlier, this is the least interesting quality about his films. What he really excels in is making the camera and character as one so that as we watch it, the audience-voyeurs, can feel complicit in the character's actions or possessed by their obsessions and state of minds. I attribute my life-long anxieties about recreational drug use to Requiem For A Dream not because it showed me the graphic effects of drug use on the body, but it made me feel them first-hand through cinematic techniques. I still get the fast-forward nausea head rush just watching other people take drugs.
One feels the rush of the high, the rush of the performance (Black Swan) and the rush of the fight (The Wrestler) as if one embodied the character. If I were to look at mother! or any of his other films, as a series of images with hidden meanings or as an art object filled with metaphors waiting to be excavated, I don't think I would have had the same kind of experience.
When I think about this movie I remember the smell of the ageing house and the burning flesh. I can taste the whiskey they drank and hear the suspicious muffled conversations in the next room. In sensorial movies such as this one, the terrifying presence of the surface is stronger than what may lie beneath it. It might be helpful to be consumed by the thing in front of us than the things we imagine to be inside it.