Polygon is kicking off its best of entertainment series, which will run through the end of December and beginning of January, coming to a close just before the 2017 Golden Globes. These personal essays will examine the best, most important and weirdest moments that occurred in television, film, streaming and YouTube/Twitch in 2017. Each will examine why the author believes that moment to be one of 2017’s most extraordinary. The series will end with Polygon’s Best of TV and Best of Movies pieces.
Darren Aronofsky’s movies are strange, confusing and disturbing, but none of his works best encapsulates those defining terms more so than Mother!
[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Mother!]
Mother!, an allegorical story about God and the creation of the universe, premiered in September and quickly became the most talked-about movie of the year. The film stars Jennifer Lawrence as Mother and Javier Bardem as Him, the all-knowing and worshipped creator who daylights as a poet. To explain the events of Mother! is a nearly impossible task, as its landscapes shift and the expanding cast of characters sink deeper into the depths of hell.
Every once in a while, the film industry gets a unicorn like Mother! that divides audiences. Some will claim to understand what Aronofsky is trying to do and love it; some will claim to understand what Aranofsky is trying to do and hate it. Some will throw their hands in the air and say to hell with it.
Mother! became a fixation for two good reasons: It was just ambiguous enough that people could find their own meaning within the film’s cracks. And it was easy to debate.
When Mother! was released, Aronofsky told Vulture that “most people, after they see the film, they don’t even wanna look at me.” So, he purposely made a complicated film that was going to divide people; this wasn’t supposed to be a blockbuster success. It was the ridding of his own philosophical demons.
Aronofsky wanted to make a movie with religious allegorical points and share a message about the destruction of the Earth, but that’s not what caught audiences off guard and kept them talking for weeks on end. It was the vicious, cannibalistic devouring of a human baby — the chosen one — that drove people from the theater in the film’s final 30 minutes. And it was the misogynistic language directed at Lawrence’s character, which left people on Twitter and Reddit asking if it was really necessary.
Regardless of whether you loved or hated Mother!, you talked about it.
Ask anyone who saw Mother! and most will share the same story about what they did afterwards. We spent the night reading various thinkpieces written by critics and film intelligentsia, trying to better our understanding of what transpired. We then repeated those same thoughts we pored over the night before to friends and family members who asked about Mother!, their own curiosity piqued by the incessant buzz of conversation around the movie.
This was a different type of frenzy than the conversation we tend to see around big-budget blockbusters like Star Wars: The Last Jedi or next year’s Avengers: Infinity War. This wasn’t a debate over whether the movie was good or whether it managed to satisfy the audience’s voracious appetite for disturbing content; this was a conversation about Aronofsky’s contribution to cinema and where the line should be drawn for what makes the final cut.
The ruckus that overtook every debate about Mother! led back to what Aronofsky thought, what his true intentions were, but even those changed from interview-to-interview. As my colleague Ben Kuchera pointed out in a previous piece penned for Polygon, what makes Mother! such an interesting and inexplicable addition to cinema’s archives is that what Aronofsky’s intentions were — and the message we walked away with — doesn’t matter.
I’m not particularly convinced Aranofsky knows exactly what he’s trying to say or how much of himself he put into the film. It feels too primal and immediate to be as divorced from his own mind and insecurities as he may want us to believe.
Besides, his intent is completely meaningless when you’re in the theater. Mother! is visually lush while never shying away from bruising the audience, and Lawrence exhibits a complete devotion to the role in a way that you feel in your bones. The film is layered with allegory, biblical allusions and primal visuals. It’s meant to make you feel something, even if that thing is disgust.
Mother! wasn’t the worst-received movie of 2017. (And it was far from the best.) It wasn’t the strangest film, nor was it the most direct. What Mother! accomplished more than any other movie was dominating a conversation for months on end, reenergizing the notion that film can have a heavyweight impact on mainstream political, cultural and religious conversation.
I don’t have any intention to revisit Mother!. It’s a grotesque movie that accomplishes the goal of seeping into the bones of its audience over 135 minutes and lingering long after its credits roll, but it’s the type of filmgoing experience I don’t want to submit myself to for a second time. I will, however, read every single article or essay written about Mother! until the end of time.
I hate Mother!, but I’m irrevocably and unapologetically infatuated with its existence.