DISCLAIMER: At You Hate Movies we believe very strongly in preserving the movie going experience for every casual movie goer, film lover, and cinephile. Consequently, we always provide proper warning prior to even mild or abstract spoilers. The following blog is intended to be spoiler-free (it includes no narrative details or revealing plot information for the movie on which it focuses), but we understand that even discussing the tonality of a movie, or the experience of seeing it is for many, a kind of spoiler. If you’re going for 110% purity, just see the movie first.
A well-worn clickbait trope of film journalism is the article in which one lists the Most Disturbing/Shocking/Controversial (or some such synonym) Movies Of All Time. I’ll be the first to admit that I am a sucker for such clickbait. Once there, my experience has been that I have almost always already seen every movie listed. Few such movies are actually good movies, but at some point or another, I’ve seen many of the infamous entires, and most such lists enjoy a certain level of agreement. Some movies are infamous for a reason.
Last night I watched Darron Aronofsky’s mother!, a film that immediately catapulted to the highest ranking on my own personal ‘most shocking experience’ list. I think two facts contributed to said outcome: I went in knowing almost nothing about the movie aside from the director and star, and secondly, I saw it in a movie theater.
As a big fan of Aronofsky’s work, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that the dude responsible for Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan would make an intense flick. Even so, I was not prepared for the experience of mother!—and that’s precisely how I think the film is best described: As an experience.
We tend to think of movies as good or bad. They either satisfy or they do not. Few movies challenge the viewer to the degree that the film itself defies simplistic feedback. Like most of Aronofsky’s filmography, mother! is an excellent piece of filmmaking in the technical sense, but there’s almost no way to properly describe the experience with convenient terminology. Does one like mother!? If so, in what sense? Is one repulsed by mother!? If so, is the repulsion for better or for worse, appropriate or unintentional?
To be sure, most mainstream movie going audiences will not have a warm place for mother! in their hearts, and that’s okay. Aronofsky’s latest film is, to my estimation, a monumental feat of bravery in that it happily divides the audience with a ruthless assault on the senses. It's inevitable that such a film would outrage, alienate, and appall many. If it hadn’t, it would have failed in its unapologetic purpose.
Good art elicits an emotional response, and that response needn’t necessarily encompass standard paradigms of entertainment and satisfaction. I go to the movies to be transported, and when I buy my ticket to ride I submit myself to the director’s navigation, for better or for worse. mother! is both better and worse in equal measure, and to incredible ends.
Many reading this should probably sit mother! out. An evereyone-needs-to-see-this flick, it is not. But to the steely cinephile prepared for sensory onslaught, mother! is an important film. If you belong to the latter group my advice is twofold: Know as little as you can prior to viewing (avoid trailers, articles, reviews, etc.), and see this film in a good theater.
Bravo, Mr. Aronofsky. With your latest flick you have achieved a little wonder—one largely missing in our movie going moment: More than a movie, an experience.
Author: Josh Porter