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Arts & Culture

'Mother!' Delivers Provocative Allegory On Creative Process

Details from the poster art for Darren Aronofsky's "Mother!"
Paramount Pictures
Details from the poster art for Darren Aronofsky's "Mother!"

Darren Aronofsky's film will shock some and delight others

Companion viewing

"8 1/2" (1963)

"All That Jazz" (1979)

"Barton Fink" (1991)

"Adaptation" (2002)

The fact that some critics are calling Darren Aronofsky's "Mother!" "shocking" and "terrifying" says more about mainstream critics and the timid state of American filmmaking than about Aronofsky's film. If you see only American Hollywood movies then "Mother!" may prove a shocking experience. But if your viewing experience is far broader than that then the film can be appreciated for its thoughtful and provocative artistry.

One of my favorite quotes from any interview I have ever done is from David Cronenberg who said that he was not interested in making "comfortable cinema."

I happen to love films that make people uncomfortable. And Darren Aronofsky at his best (remember "Pi"?) does that. His new film "Mother!" includes a few scenes (you won't get spoilers from me) that tap into things that can make an audience flee for the doors or cry for a boycott.

"Mother!" is less creepy and horror-themed than I was expecting and more just crazy-ass weird, which is fine. It can be read as an allegory on a number of things (religion, marriage, art) but the reading that makes the most sense to me is as one about the creative process.

The film looks to a poet (Javier Bardem) and his wife/muse (Jennifer Lawrence). He's trying to create a poem; she's trying to restore their huge, old house. He struggles to write but no words come out on the page. Then a pair of strangers (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) randomly show up and inject chaos into the quiet home.

Chaos in the form of the unexpected jump starts his creative process.

If read as a look at how an artist creates, then the film serves up a satisfying metaphor for how consuming, draining, and challenging that process can be. It’s also an unflinching portrait of how narcissistic and demanding an artist can be. Bardem’s poet craves fame, attention, love, and adoration. He has an ego that seems insatiable. But his muse proves equally insatiable.

The film suggests that the act of creating art can be beautiful and richly rewarding. But once that art goes out into the world it can be interpreted in any way. That art can create a cult, hysteria and can even be interpreted wrongly. Once an artist sends his work out into the world he no longer has control over it, it takes on a life of its own.

And the cult of celebrity that can arise can rob an artist of his privacy and personal life and can make him think he is much more important than he actually is. Then, after creating a work of art, an artist has to face the fact that he or she will have to start from the beginning again to create something new.

At a time when formula films are the mainstay and audiences want everything tied up in neat little packages, Aronofsky’s "Mother!" arrives like a tornado to destroy all conventions in its path. It’s meticulous yet messy, bursting with ideas yet unwilling to explain any of them, riveting yet aggravating.

It is rare these days to find an American film that surprises you and that does not announce its intent from its opening frame. I love the fact that at no point did I know where Aronofsky was taking me and that I could not predict what was to come. I literally felt myself moving to the edge of my seat in expectation of what was to come next.

I know there are more layers to peel back in this film and I look forward to exploring them. But on first viewing, I find it a stunning and provocative reflection on art and the all consuming and sometimes destructive nature of the creative process.