Is mother! a masterpiece?

Darren Aronofsky’s latest, mother!, has become something of a talking point. There is, on one hand, the argument that it cleverly unpicks biblical, and human, issues using an ingenious allegory. On the other, some have called it ham-fisted and childish, a teenager’s attempt at being ‘deep’. This division has only served to add to the intrigue surrounding Aronofsky’s controversial biblical tale.

It must be acknowledged that Paramount were brave to give this film such a wide release. Mother! is unlike anything else that has been released in mainstream cinema this year, or perhaps ever. Now is the time for studios to be bold, and no matter our opinion of the film, Paramount should be applauded for having faith in such a divisive film. It is refreshing to see a film become the subject of such fervent debate.

However, it is also the manner of the debate that is of interest. Mother! has sparked a debate on where the line lies between genius and pretention. Many have argued that Aronofsky’s use of allegory is heavy-handed and malformed. Others argue that the allegory distils the story into something smaller, a house inside a snowglobe. I take a somewhat middling view. The use of allegory is highly successful in conveying the pith of Aronofsky’s meaning, but lacks a serious dose of refinement. Subtlety is tossed aside in favour of shock value.

It is difficult to form an opinion of mother! without understanding what it is trying to tell us, and what it is trying to achieve. There are numerous interpretations of the story. I first interpreted it as a feminist piece, picking apart society’s tendency to ignore women and their achievements while idolising those of men. More clear, though, is the biblical interpretation. The mother represents Mother Nature, her husband represents God, and the home she so tirelessly built for them represents planet Earth. There are numerous other biblical aspects, for example Harris’ and Pfeiffer’s Adam and Eve, but I wish to focus on the soul of the story, which lies in the destruction of the mother’s home and God’s inability, or unwillingness, to stop it.

Strip away the rest of the film, strip it back to these key elements, and you take away most of its problems. When distilled down to this simple tale of corruption, the film achieves its purpose. Everything else is window dressing. Aronofsky’s message is one that is intended to fill us with rage- and it does.

After watching mother!, I couldn’t stop thinking about what it could possibly be trying to achieve. I often take the view that a film is successful if it manages to properly convey the emotions that the director intended his audience to feel. Mother! made me feel a spectrum of claustrophobia, nausea, irritation, rage, pity and heart-pounding anxiety. In this regard, mother! is a masterpiece of nightmarish terror. Its slow descent into madness is accompanied by an overwhelming wave of anxiety that left me speechless. Mother! was entirely successful in making me feel.

So, with this in mind, is subtlety even a requirement? Or just a nice to have? In this case, some subtlety would have elevated this film to something greater. Mother! is a film which lacks any wit, any humour, any deft touches which take it beyond pure, red-blooded human emotion. After I left the cinema, and my heart stopped racing, I noticed that I felt differently about the film. I felt almost disappointed with it, as though the adrenaline of the mad rush had got me carried away.

Mother! has stayed with me. It will continue to play on my mind for the coming days. It is a film which swept me away but also left me infuriated. However, it is exactly the kind of film that we need right now, and I appreciate Darren Aronofsky’s fearlessness in bringing it to the big screen in all its madness.

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Uncertainty and The Graduate

Two days ago, I graduated with a first class degree. I have a graduate job locked down. I am moving into a flat with my boyfriend in a little over a week. I have the beginnings of a pathway laid out in front of me. However, like any recent graduate, I feel a nagging sense of uncertainty. Until now, my life had been a series of ladders; do well in GCSEs in order to go to sixth form. Do well in A-Levels in order to go to university. Do well in university in order to…

That’s where the ladder ends. And now I have my entire life in front of me, and I can do anything I want. But what do I want? The Graduate is a film which explores this sense of unease with a deft hand. And it is a film which, until now, I had never seen. Which, for a supposed film lover, I know, is a travesty. But we all have gaps in our knowledge (until last weekend, I hadn’t seen Dirty Dancing, either).

The Graduate explores the post-college life of Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), as he returns home to his parents and grapples with the idea of having nothing, and everything, to do. It explores how he finds some semblance of meaning within his brief affair with Mrs Robinson, which gives him something, anything, to look forward to. His self-loathing afterwards is almost tangible. Braddock medicates his anxiety through this illicit affair, although in 2017 Mrs Robinson’s behaviour comes off as almost predatory.

Benjamin is different to the modern day graduate in many ways- he is innocent, a virgin, for one thing, and completely inexperienced. He is a blank page, and acts as though he has not yet become a man. Benjamin lives in a suspended state of adolescence, at the age of 21. On his return from college, he is treated with the revere of a hero returning from war. His parents, and their peers, congratulate him time and time again for his achievements (mirrored in 2017 by the adoring Facebook comments left by my mum’s friends on my graduation photo). This serves only to compound his sense of loss- the loss of student life. The loss of his sense of achievement, the loss of his extra-curriculars, and the loss of a world he had spent four years building around him.

There is also that almost too-real feeling of an ill fit between your aspirations and your reality. Benjamin is a man whose achievements in life, alongside his aspirations, have been built up to insurmountable heights during his academic career. Now, upon his graduation, he wants to be “different” from his parents. Yet he is pulled aside and told that “plastics” are the way to go. We all spend our years in education dreaming of how we might spend our lives afterwards, and for many those aspirations remain a pipe-dream. The Graduate is not afraid to confront that reality head-on. We will not become astronaughts, peace envoys or poets. For many of us, the future lies in plastics or something similarly disappointing.

Perhaps the bravest move The Graduate makes is to leave the question of Benjamin’s future wide open. Although he receives a part of his happy ending, we never learn what he actually finds to do with his life. Although he finds love and companionship, his path still escapes him. What The Graduate does well is to convey every graduate’s sense of uncertainty, despair and loss, coupled with the unending opportunity they are faced with, but can’t quite bring themselves to reach out and grab. I am a graduate with some semblance of a path ahead of me, yet The Graduate managed to leave me feeling more bewildered than ever.