Darren Aronofsky’s latest feature, mother!, stays true to its vision as a retelling of the stories of the Bible, although not with half the intelligibility of his previous effort, Noah (14). Despite compelling performances from Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Ed Harris, mother! suffers from a sloppily executed and overly ambitious narrative that treats its audience to an obscure reading of Sunday School curricula. It’s not that the film is held back by its aspirations, but rather that it struggles to depict a clear-headed and lucid progression of those Biblical events that needlessly occupy its subtext.
After its screening on Monday morning at the Toronto International Film Festival, the 48 year old filmmaker took to the stage to fumble out a justification for the film’s grandiose and sometimes incoherent direction. On first viewing, it appears more as a generic commentary on pregnancy, ostensibly as a metaphor for the impunity with which we treat our mother(!) Earth. Aronofsky’s explanation affirmed this suspicion, but managed to render the entire film yet even more inarticulate by revealing his directorial intentions: to depict the fall of man and the advent of Jesus Christ. In retrospect, this revelation adds nothing to the movie’s impact except further convince the viewer of its banality. What results is a punishing rehash of a universally familiar story made superficial.
Without Clint Mansell, a minimalist score spares us from having our heartstrings played with, and a simple three-shot film sequence (all surrounding Jennifer Lawrence’s POV), make for a productive watch that shies away from forced perspectives and leaves room for alternate interpretations. This, it seems, proffers its only saving grace. To reject Aronofsky’s almost comically betrayed Biblical subplot is to make for a much more enjoyable, and simplified, viewing experience.
Visually, I found the picture overdone by digital whitewashing. The film is replete with butter-smooth shots that appear almost cartoonish in their purity, macabre elements made unintentionally horrid by CGI, and a greenish colour grading that casts a warm, monotonous tint that ultimately takes away from the vibrancy of the flood and hellfire that ensues at climax.
This is not the highbrow capital-A art that Aronofsky or Paramount Pictures intended it to be. Unlike his earlier work, mother! fails to satisfy the small sensibilities that such fine art demands. It should be known that mother! failed, but did not fail by design. Rather, it fell by its confused presentation in which each of its central artistic motives, dreaminess and delirium, only serve to take away from the other. With a catalog of films behind him that happily combine the two, there’s no sensible explanation for ranking mother! among his best.