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Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

mother!--A No Spoiler Essay and Review


A Few Thoughts on mother! -- Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Five days after seeing it, I am still processing this film, but I have reached one conclusion: mother! is the most polarizing, subversive work of cinematic art to come out of a major studio in years, and it is destined to become, at the least, a cult classic.  That's a lot packed into one sentence.

Love it or hate it director Darren Aronofsky's film is a work of art in that he leaves its interpretation up to the viewer.  Whatever conclusions you draw, please do it for the right reasons, and it is important to note that mother! is NOT for everyone.  I say this with no snobbery or antipathy.  Everyone has his or her own taste in movies, and for some, that translates into two hours of escapism and fun that they can walk away from afterward--entertainment that is sweet but as nourishing as the fountain soda they drank during the movie and as disposable as the cup it came in.  In other words, just like the majority of films that major studios send our way these days.  Heck, many of the most entertaining movies our little band sees every year fit this category, and the best we can offer in later discussion is how much or how little we liked it and why.  mother! doesn't let you off so easily.  mother! is more like rare tenderloin washed down with 25-year old Macallan.  It smacks you in the face, intoxicates, exhilarates, maybe even makes you sick; but its heady earthiness sticks with you.

 That's mother!.  The characters don't have names, it doesn't have a linear plot, the setting is surreal, there are no musical cues to tell you what to think and feel; it is an allegory with subtexts and metaphors that are open to various interpretations.  Some see it as anti-Christian, others see it as pro-Christian, a dark satire of fame, a scathing criticism of idol worship, a glorification of the sacred feminine, anti-feminist, an indictment of human destruction of the planet, the Apocalypse.  mother! is about creation and Creation. and at one point, her very words,"You never loved me. You only loved how I loved you" carry both personal and Cosmic import.  This film challenges the viewer to think, to analyze, to interpret, to create his or her own meaning; in that way, Aronofsky shows the utmost respect for the audience. If you decide to see mother! see it on its terms, not yours.

As he developed his script, Darren Aronofsky arranged a meeting with Susan Griffin, who in 1978 wrote the ecofeminist classic, Women and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her.  In her book, Griffin explores myth and literature and mounts a convincing sociological argument that the patriarchy often connects women with nature and is bent on dominating both.  Griffin and Aronofsky found each other kindred spirits--it helped that Jennifer Lawrence, who plays the title character, also read Griffin's work and raved about it in an interview with Charlie Rose two years ago.  In the end, Griffin was influential in developing the spiritual foundation of the film.

A caveat: mother! comes to theaters with an R-rating, and it is well-earned for some nudity and language, but mostly for violence.  This surreal film has several disturbing images and one scene, when taken out of context, sounds frightful.  In context, though, the imagery and those scenes add to the fever dream third act and drives the film toward its wild and brilliant conclusion.

Credit must be given to Darren Aronofsky for writing and directing such an original film, to Paramount for taking the chance that no major studio has dared since the heyday of Stanley Kubrick, to Jennifer Lawrence for using her star power cache (at significant professional risk) to help make it happen, and to Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Harris, and others (most notably brothers Domhnall and Brian Gleeson and Kristen Wiig) for lending their estimable talents to this challenging film.  In their commitment to this film, the primary cast spent three months rehearsing in a New York warehouse before moving to a remote location outside of Montreal for filming.

As we have made clear on several past occasions, we are fans of Darren Aronofsky's work, and we believe Jennifer Lawrence to be the brightest star of her generation.  The director demanded much from her, Aronofsky had his cinematographer, Matthew Libatique, filmed mother! in 16mm with three settings: Lawrence's POV, tracking her, or close-up on her face.  By all accounts of those closest to the film, she went to the depths of emotion that frightened others on set.  So impressed was Aronofsky after two test showings that he wiped Johann Johannsson's soundtrack from the film.  He said he didn't want music to lead the audience.  To him, Jennifer Lawrence is the soundtrack--so much so, in fact, that even the eerie, creaking sounds of the house are her voice, distorted and modified.

I will see mother! a second time in the theater, maybe a third, and I'm sure I will continue to process this film.  Whether that is a commentary on the film or the limits of my mind is open to discussion.  At this point, you are probably expecting a grade for this film.  The first and most respected critics, those who attended the Venice and Toronto International Film Festivals, for the most part, loved mother!; at worst, several gave it mixed reviews, and the British press and public have been most positive. Because it is too ambitious and outrageous for general audiences and, probably, AMPAS itself, any awards it garners will be both a surprise and a credit to the awarding body because Paramount, Aronofsky, Libatique, and the incredible cast are all deserving.  With that in mind, we will stray from our usual rating method and say:
9.0 out of 10 for artistic merit
6.0 out of 10 for general audiences and awards potential







Wind River


Wind River

Taylor Sheridan's acting resume started in 1995, but it was two decades before he burst into our consciousness with his writing debut of Sicario, one of the best action films of 2015.  He followed up the very next year with Hell or High Water, another action film set in his native Texas, this time earning an Original Screenplay Oscar nomination.  On top of that, in his debut, Sheridan won Un Certain Regard - Director at the Cannes Film Festival.  Is it any wonder that Guy Malone, Researcher, placed Wind River, Sheridan's latest effort high on our priority list?  Proving great minds think alike, the Weinsteins picked up the rights to this crime thriller.

Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a US Fish and Wildlife agent, picks off wolves who have been preying on local livestock with his sniper rifle.  As he treks back across the frigid Wyoming landscape, he comes across the body of a young Native American woman, barefoot, miles from nowhere.  He calls Ben (Graham Greene), the head of a six-man constabulary assigned to cover the Wind River Reservation, an area the size of Rhode Island.  Suspicious circumstances--the woman was raped and her lungs had burst--brings in the FBI in the person of rookie Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), sent from the regional office in Las Vegas.

It is at this juncture that a more traditional Western would have forgotten the rigors of FBI training and the resourcefulness of its agents and had the wily tracker (probably John Wayne) carry the little lady, at first stubbornly naive but later worshipfully grateful, to a fitting conclusion and they would live happily ever after.  Sheridan has different ideas, as anyone familiar with his previous work well knows.  Once acclimated, Jane follows her law and order instincts to drive the investigation, but she is a pragmatist; realizing she doesn't know the territory, she enlists Cory to assist.  For his part, the tracker has his own interest in the case.  The deceased woman, Natalie, had been the best friend of his own deceased daughter, so her death cuts doubly deep through his scars.  From here, those expecting a whodunit will be disappointed; there's no challenging trail of clues and red herrings to sift through.  Even as a police procedural, it is overt and heavy-handed; we get a lead, another lead, and a revealing flashback that solves the case.  Wind River does deliver in other ways, though: a tense Mexican standoff, satisfying vengeance, and several unexpected twists on the John Wayne formula.

It also gives us is a window into the lives of forgotten people stuck in picturesque but remote isolation.  Sheridan has something to say, and those accustomed to his writing know his characters tell it in terse remarks, some of which plays out as dry wit, some as frontier working-man wisdom, some a mixture of both.  As such, Graham Greene's supporting lawman was casting made in heaven; his deadpan expression and sidelong glances were made to deliver Sheridan's lines.  Elizabeth Olsen, recently so good as a shallow socialite in Ingrid Goes West is equally effective as an inexperienced but resourceful and decisive FBI agent.

Beyond dialogue, Sheridan, an ombudsman for Native Americans, offers a worldview; he shows their existence as a vast confinement that few successfully escape while many fall into depression, drugs, or lawlessness.  Brought to a personal level, Sheridan's musings play out in a study of souls isolated within and without, and Renner's laconic reflection of that results in his best performance yet.  As one of my partners, Ambrose Woolfinger pointed out to me, the best scene is one of its quietest, and it is at the end.  Cory visits Natalie's father, Martin (Gil Birmingham, a Sheridan favorite), two men bound by the loss of daughters.  In a touching soliloquy, Cory tells Martin he must allow himself to suffer or else he will be robbed of even his memories of Natalie.  It is sage advice, something Cory has yet to accept himself.  As a Native American, Martin knows what Cory means.

7.5 out of 10 on the Entertainment Scale
7.0 out of 10 on an Awards Scale (Wind River is likely to fall short of major awards consideration, but it is a good candidate for Independent Spirit Awards. )


 
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