The Greek philosopher Epicurus wrote:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. 
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. 
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? 
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

In Darren Aronofsky’s new film “Mother!,” this ideology is taken to its logical conclusion . . . and then some . . . and then a lot more.

While the exclamation point at the end of the title seems just a touch self-indulgent, it’s a familiar kind of self-indulgence for fans of Aronofsky’s work. After all, it wouldn’t feel so gratifying to be one of the few who “get it” if it didn’t take itself so seriously, would it? And while there’s no shortage of critics and moviegoers who simply could not and will not get past the obligatory outer shell of self-righteous, faux martyrdom that often comes from tortured artists like Aronofsky, I think this movie might be onto something.

We live in a world where anyone who can afford an iPhone is a photographer, everyone with an Instagram is a model and any schmuck can have their thoughts on the new Aronofsky film published on the homepage of the oldest student newspaper west of the Alleghenies. With the proliferation and liberalization of art as an accessible pursuit for the masses, it has become harder and harder to distinguish what is, and more importantly what is not, art. Film is no different.

The divide between what is and what is not art in filmmaking has been elucidated slightly by yearly summer schlock fests like “Transformers” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequels. That said, in a medium which, by nature, eludes objective interpretation, there exist very few universals on which to base the validity of a film’s claim to artistic significance. What really distinguishes one Marvel movie from another at this point? Can a script written solely to be appealing to as many people as possible really be considered a meaningful subjective experience?

I don’t mean to come across as an elitist here, but if you can name the directors of the last handful of superhero movies to stumble their way into hundreds of millions of dollars in profit, you are certainly in the minority.

And then there’s “Mother!”

Without giving away too much of the plot, I feel it’s important going into this film to know that the two main characters which fill its strange, twisted narrative are not really people. Jennifer Lawrence, in an uncharacteristically submissive and vulnerable role, is meant to serve as a symbol for (insert allegorical mother figure here), and Javier Bardem playing her opposite serves as a stand in for any number of mythical God or creator figures.

In the hands of a lesser storyteller, what I just told you would be the main plot point, a convenient head-scratcher of a twist to neatly wrap up some M. Night Shyamalan movie. But in the hands of the director of films such as “Requiem for a Dream” and “Black Swan,” this major plot point simply disappears in a sea of (sometimes mixed) metaphors, each more emotionally disturbing and confounding the deeper one reads into them.

So many reviews of this film have called it simultaneously inaccessible, muddled and heavy-handed, criticisms which really shouldn’t exist regarding the same movie. But that’s the power that “Mother!” wields.

Through its first two acts, the stage is set for something of otherworldly complexity to unfold between our two main characters and their many, many uninvited guests. And while this promise of enigmatic meaningfulness is never really brought to fruition, the rather straightforward parable that follows was, for me, as heart-wrenching, poignant and timely as anything that I have ever seen in film.

The movie is certainly pretentious, but at its core there lies a battle for identity which undoubtedly belongs to the director himself. Bardem, a stand-in for God also serves as a stand-in for Aronofsky, a concept which on its surface sounds like the type of self-aggrandizing usually reserved for serial killers and billionaire businessmen-turned-presidents. Strangely enough, it’s this flawed and utterly vulnerable insertion of himself into the most head-scratching parts of his movie that makes his message stick.

He’s clearly working out a deep, amorphous anger here, but to his credit he never allows himself to go unscathed by his own arrows of judgment. If nothing else, he’s honest, and that’s something which is in disturbingly short supply in our world of brightly colored caped crusaders and product placement-filled cash grabs.

“Mother!” is by no means a perfect film. In fact, most of the people who watch it will not enjoy it. But there’s certainly something to be said for a film which lends itself to subjective interpretation among a sea of cookie-cutter action films.

4/5 stars

matsonrm@miamioh.edu

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