I can’t recall ever seeing a wider chasm between critical consensus and audience appraisal. Critics have, by and large, praised Darren Aronofsky’s new film MOTHER!, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem. Audiences have almost universally despised it. It got the lowest grade possible on Cinemascore, a big, fat, honkin’ F. Which camp is right, then? Does the movie suck that hard, or is it a misunderstood masterpiece that mainstream audiences just didn’t “get”? It’s both. Both sides are right. Read on, but beware–SPOILER ALERT.
MOTHER! is a religious allegory, not a movie. It is performance art. Bardem is God. Lawrence is Mother Earth. Their baby is the Christ Child, and when it gets torn apart by the troublesome crowds, it is at once crucifixion and eucharist. Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer are Adam and Eve; their sons are Cain and Abel. The way that the whole is put together is masterful, the work of a true artist. But it isn’t a movie. If you know that going in, you might not be so disappointed. Don’t buy a ticket expecting to see a standard movie with standard characters and a standard narrative. MOTHER! is much more and much less than that. To say it isn’t for everybody is an understatement.
Generally speaking, allegory in fiction is bad. Such vaunted creators as J.R.R. Tolkien derided it. Note that “allegory” is not synonymous with “symbolism” or “metaphor” or “allusion.” Not to get into a matter of nomenclature, and the boundaries between these terms do tend to be porous, but allegory is more overt. More “forced,” if you will. Heavy-handed. MOTHER! is pure allegory. Those who can appreciate it as such will appreciate the effort. Everybody else–and that’s most everybody, period–is going to hate it. Caveat emptor, moviegoers.