Fathers of Invention

in 74th Venice International Film Festival

by Gianlorenzo Franzi

Since his earliest films (such as Pi and Requiem for a Dream) it has been well known that Darren Aronofsky is not one for compromises and comfortable choices. His filmography is one of abnormal talents placed at the service of ambitious authorial scope, resulting in increasingly complex works, less and less anchored to any conventional demands of logic.

His latest production mother! was one of the most mysterious and most anticipated films of the official selection at Venice this year, at least for those on the lookout for personal works unafraid to “think outside the box.” The film turned out to be full of subtexts so enormous that they elude the understanding of both viewer and director alike.

If Aronofsky has always rummaged among the folks of the unconscious (“the more we dig in our inner darkness, the more we see the light,” he has said), inserting into his stories fragmentary sub-plots and dreamlike segments which may slowly overwhelm the main plot. With mother! he goes a step further, because the whole movie is an immense allegory so powerful and all-encompassing that it is open to every kind of interpretation, depending upon the perspective from which it is observed.

Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence play a (never-named) husband and wife, living in a big house in the middle of the countryside. Their life is shaken when a doctor (Ed Harris) and later the doctor’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrive unannounced, slowly insinuating themselves into their lives in a crescendo that results in bloody, unexpected occurrences.

Creation (of art, life, matter), love (between man and woman, between mother and son, between author and spectator), new frontiers of celebrity and information, the relationship with others and with oneself, the perception of self and the world… metaphors bleed into other metaphors, from the religious to the artistic, to the literary.

All the while the plot of mother! oscillates across a fluctuating psycho-geography, fragmenting infinitely as it does so. Aronofsky, having created a movie from a kind of bubbling magma, controls it with the meticulous handling of details and characters, in a film abounding with close-ups. It seems classical in its use of form but then breaks and segments into freer forms of narrative experimentation. The house (a refuge, a paradise) hosts a series of characters and situations which seem to be aiming to portray the female protagonist´s inner life, finally bursting into a wild, surreal flow.

mother! is ultimately so dense with events and references, subtexts and meanings, images and noises, that it swallows up the exceptional performances of the whole cast. The house becomes the body, with a dark basement taking the place of the unconscious, and a precious diamond-like mineral encapsulates artistic inspiration, a kind of fragile and imperilled purity.

Aronofsky seemingly does not care about causing a sense of discomfort in his viewer (and why should he?). The spectator is left at the mercy of a story without a musical score to guide him/her as to the mood of a film open to so many interpretations (the title suggests that maternity is somehow key…) . It brilliantly spins a demonic web that replicates the confusing tumult of the modern world via a tactile, material universe: ever-transforming, hovering on the edge of dream and nightmare.

It is in this aspect, but also for the visual, emotional and narrative impressions, which makes mother! a necessary work at this precise juncture in time, encompassing every angle of vision, a film whose spectator are able to contribute interactively to the construction of its meaning(s). Masterpiece!

Edited by Neil Young
© FIPRESCI 2017

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