Blog Directory CineVerse: It's alright ma, I'm only bleeding (through the floor)

It's alright ma, I'm only bleeding (through the floor)

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

In 2017, Darren Aronofsky opened a disturbing Pandora’s box he called mother!, a psychological and surreal horror film that delves into the life of a young woman (Jennifer Lawrence), residing with her husband (Javier Bardem) in a rural and secluded mansion. Their peaceful existence takes a tumultuous turn when an enigmatic couple, embodied by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, unexpectedly enters their lives. As tensions mount and the intrusive behavior of the visitors escalates, the woman's once-serene life descends into chaos. Complementing the leads are memorable supporting performances from Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson, and Kristen Wiig.

The movie's provocative and polarizing nature has further contributed to its enduring reputation. While some viewers admire its audaciousness and thematic complexity, others find it polarizing, viewing it as either pretentious or disturbing.

To listen to a recording of our CineVerse group discussion of this film, click here.

Aronofsky employs intense visuals to instill a pervasive sense of unease and tension throughout the film. But it’s a hard work to take literally, often employing dream logic and fantastical imagery (like the supernatural visions the poet’s wife sees throughout the house). Instead, it plays better as an allegory or parable for some greater lesson. After all, it’s pretty doubtful the director would subject his audience to (SPOILER ALERT) a literal killing and cannibalistic eating of a newborn baby.

Among the clues that this is a nightmarish cinematic metaphor removed from the real world? Consider how blood can dissolve wood and stone, the wife’s ability to sense a diseased heart hidden in the home upon touching the walls, the ridiculous escalation of intruders, and how the crowd so quickly devolves into brutality and aberrant behavior. Interestingly, the characters are never named. Speaking of characters, the house itself qualifies as one, often exhibiting human traits like that obscured cardiac organ or the bleeding floor as well as the exaggerated sound effects that enhance the domicile’s aliveness. The unnerving sound design, in fact, substitutes for a proper musical score.

The filmmaking choices ramp up the tension and claustrophobic elements of the misc en scene, as noticed by critic Brian Tallerico: “Aronofsky shoots the film with a stunning degree of close-up. We are on top of Lawrence and Bardem for most of the film, which not only amplifies the claustrophobia but allows Aronofsky and Libatique to play with a limited perspective. We stay close on Mother, and can barely tell what’s happening behind her or to the sides. The lack of establishing shots keeps us off the game when it comes to a typical horror experience. We often spend horror films looking for answers—Who's the killer? Who's going to die? Who's going to live? "mother!" changes the genre rules. It thrives on horror of confusion, which is the main currency of the film.” BFI reviewer Nick Pinkerton observed: “Save for two bookending scenes, the narrative is entirely filtered through her eyes; she is very often tracked in moving, choreographed closeups which recall Aronofsky’s treatment of Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler; and more than once the camera’s point-of-view is aligned intimately with her own, as when she looks down in the shower at the swell of her pregnant stomach.

Major themes afoot in mother! include, of course, the abuse and destruction of the planet. The film can serve as an effective allegory for, as Jennifer Lawrence stated, “the rape and torment of Mother Earth… I represent Mother Earth.”

Mankind’s yearning to connect to an often uncaring and absent creator deity is also explored herein, as personified by the unnamed poet, who frequently abandons his wife and leaves her vulnerable.

Additionally, the film plays as a biblical metaphor, representing the Old Testament and New Testament. Lawrence further said: “Javier, whose character is a poet, represents a form of God, a creator; Michelle Pfeiffer is in Eve to Ed Harris’s Adam, there’s Cain and Able, and the setting sometimes resembles the Garden of Eden.” The poet’s wife gives birth to a Christlike messiah, who is literally consumed by the spiritually ravenous throng in a communion-like ritual.

Matt Goldberg, writer with Collider, wrote: “The movie is about the relationship between God, Mother Earth, the environment, and humanity, with Aronofsky coming down on the side of humanity being a plague upon the Earth…When (Ed Harris is) puking in the bathroom, we quickly see an injury right where his rib would be. In the next scene, his wife, representing Eve, shows up. They’re allowed to wander the house but are told specifically not to go into the poet’s office, but they do so anyway and Eve accidentally breaks the fire crystal. They’re then exiled and soon begin having sex elsewhere in the house, thus representing original sin and man’s fall from grace after eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden…The wake then becomes a chaotic party where, after numerous protestations to not sit on an un-braced sink, the sink becomes unmoored from the wall and water pours into the house. Thus we have humanity’s downfall following the slaying of Abel and eventually the flood…the Earth and humanity will die and at best God will simply do everything all over again because he needs to create and desires love from his creations.”

Mother! reminds us, too, of the threat of a patriarchal-dominated society and male ambitions to women and families, who are frequently ignored, neglected, minimized, and abused. Case in point: The poet is a powerful and creative man but he takes his wife and other female partners for granted, demanding their love and adoration without reciprocating it equally. Furthermore, it’s a film about the dangers of religious fanaticism, the cult of personality, entrusting your faith in an imperfect human being or belief system, and social media—with the often rude, imposing, possessive, and outspoken home intruders symbolizing the nameless followers and comment critics who populate social media platforms, chatrooms, and comment fields.

This movie is also a rumination on the unbalanced relationship between a vampiric artist and his exploited muse, or how the artist often sucks dry the vitality of his inspiration. Critics have compared the poet to a kind of Bluebeard figure who cycles through one female muse victim after another. mother! has also been referred to as a “self-criticism” narrative in which the artist (Aronofsky) indicts himself and his self-indulgent creative instincts, illustrating the destructive nature of artistry and creativity. The poet has to “burn down” his inspirations and create a lot of waste to produce a relatively small but beautiful jewel. Ponder that Aronofsky was dating Lawrence at the time of this production.

Similar works

  • The Apartment trilogy by Polanski, including Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Tenant
  • Allegorical thrillers like The Neon Demon, The House That Jack Built, The Babadook, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and Don’t Look Up
  • Home invasion horrors like Funny Games and The Invitation
  • Suspiria (2018)
  • Antichrist
  • Possession

Other films by Darren Aronofsky

  • Requiem for a Dream
  • The Wrestler
  • Black Swan
  • Noah
  • The Whale
  • Postcard from Earth

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