Two creators, credit enough for one: Mother! & misogyny

This article was first published by The National Student on 28th September 2017

Mother! is the least “meh” movie of the year. 

I still can’t believe a major studio released this ever, let alone in 2017. Is it flawed? Yes. It’s drowned in metaphor, and its structure is designed in full-on worship of “film-as-allegory”. The subtext doesn’t just become text, it becomes a sledgehammer that smashes you in the face, and proceeds to ask, “do you get it?”*.

The setting and protagonist are scant of mundane details, to a difficult-to-relate-to degree, were it not for the permanent POV of Jennifer Lawrence’s protagonist. She and Javier Bardem’s ‘Him’ are not a warm and loving couple, but neither is it a screaming daggers relationship. The film is also not nearly as tense as it thinks it is, and as delightful as Michelle Pfeiffer’s scenes are, they’re hilariously awkward, not unnerving. Aronofsky doesn’t quite balance his Hitchcockian instincts with his jet-black streak of humour. And, the obscenely bananas finale is cruel beyond the exploitative. This is a horror movie for horror movies.

But boy oh boy, does Aronofsky commit to his metaphors. What emerges from this madman’s kitchen may be difficult to swallow, with way too many ingredients in the blender, but it delivers a mean kick. My perspective shifts whenever I consider those different ingredients, yet his central point seems clear: that at the intersection of (frequently toxic) male creativity, celebrity culture, environmental destruction, Christianity, and the enduring horror of unwelcome guests, is misogyny and mistreatment of women. Lawrence’s ‘mother’ is the story’s true power, yet at every turn her value is dismissed, desecrated, and ultimately destroyed.

mother isn’t just renovating the house, she creates it. It’s her crystal heart that restores colour, form, and life to its barren skeleton. Her life beats within its walls. It may be a work in progress, but from the sunshine walls to the unbraced sink, it’s hers. Her home, her protection, for His creative nourishment.

And it’s disrespected from the start, beyond Him who goes walking away “to be alone”; amongst the first things the quietly leering Man (Ed Harris) says, upon hearing that the renovation is her doing, is “You’re not just a pretty face!” Once the sink breaks, her “pretty” face drops the façade of civility, and she expels everyone from the house amidst the minor flood. Not Bardem’s auteur at all; Lawrence’s matriarch does this in righteous, unshackled rage. Stepping outside the film, everything I’ve read tells me it was Him who expels them.

Immediately following the flood, Him and mother explode into angry, passionate procreating, seeding new life and poetic stimulus. Six months later, the baby kicks and mother rushes to tell Father, except He’s preoccupied, standing at the edge of the world in awe: his poem is finished. When mother reads it, she experiences its meaning, and we see the house in full for the first time. Observing it in its devastation, He reaches out his hand and mother takes it. It’s the clearest expression of their solidarity and partnership in the film thus far, initiated by Him. Connection prompts their home’s rebirth, as a rush of green clearing away the ruin, forming from above, a breast-shaped world.

She declares His work “perfect”, ending in tears. Yet the above’s metaphorical vision is a lie. That will never be how the house is restored. What the poem has inspired in her is plainly a recasting of all her work and power as, at best, a joint venture – and people love it. When Kristen Wiig’s publicist/Herald arrives, mother is lauded as “The Inspiration!”. She provoked the poem about herself and her creation. But everyone in the house sees her as an interloper, preventing them from being touched by Him. The Herald eventually runs across mother again, and, recognising her existence as a threat, orders her execution.

And then there’s the baby.Her one finished work, to be adored by her forever, is consumed by a mob as a means of being closer to Him. Yes, His seed is vital to the boy’s existence, but so was mother to the poem, and no-one sees it as hers. Fundamentally it’s the same as mounting the crystal heart – the resulting product could not exist without Him, but the very literal energy that results is all hers. “I’m his mother!”, she roars when He asks to hold him. Her child is a profoundly private and personal creation; whilst she shared her joy with him, He was only concerned with the poem and the people.

Everything that mother experiences, from a loathsome pick-up artist to a ferocious beating, stems from misogyny, and most devastatingly of all, His blithe ignorance to all that she does.

Their relationship isn’t just “Proud Creator and Doting Wife”, nor “God and Mother Nature”. It’s God & God. Humanity’s masculine conception of the divine, and the divine femininity that such a conception wilfully ignores. That’s not to suggest that the archetypically submissive behaviour of the latter is to be idolised – frequently in the text, mankind disregards mother’s clearly expressed desires, her fury grows by her rightful divinity being invalidated.

Their (singular) power is divided into two genders, and the male counterpart of this cycle is the dominant creative inviting love and sharing affection. The people love Him, as mother gives all she has: her body into the house; her love to the work she does for Him; her spirit through the poem; her soul in her son; finally, her heart, to start it all over again. For those who take, She will never be enough – Her power will not be credited, and they will replace her in search of someone else.

*If you’re reading this, I have become this sledgehammer and I am not sorry.

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Film Review: Kingsman: The Golden Circles

This article was first published to The Edge on 22nd September 2017

It’ll be a cliché by the time you read this, but if you disliked Kingsman: The Secret Service, you’ll probably hate The Golden Circle. What made that film so surprising upon its release cannot be replicated, because it was Matthew Vaughn going all in on button-pushing non-winking satire. Repeating the brazen opening, the church sequence, or Pomp and Circumstance fireworks would only have diminishing returns, no matter how laser-pointed the jokes were. The only way to make a sequel that lives up to that watermark is to do something that develops the characters in new directions. That requires a story as finely-tuned as the first’s, which is something The Golden Circle doesn’t even come close to having. Continue reading

Film Review: Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets

This article was first published to The Edge on 7th August 2017

The first thing that you should know about Luc Besson’s return to the space opera genre, two decades after The Fifth Element split critics and gained cult status, is that he hasn’t set out to do anything differently in Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets. This isn’t like any other major blockbuster released this year. In its structure, characters and imagination, Valerian does things differently. Its closest counterpart this year is, coincidentally, another Dane DeHaan starrer, Gore Verbinski’s A Cure For Wellness. They’re both apparently carte blanche films for eccentric directing talents, which end up as lopsided, thoroughly weird beasts. Continue reading

Review: Moonlight

This article was first published to The Edge on 13th February 2017

There’s a song that plays at the very beginning of Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight. Before anyone is seen, over the company credits only, we hear the refrain of Boris Gardiner’s ‘Every N****r Is a Star’. It’s a cut that’ll be familiar to anyone who heard Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, where it is also the very first thing the listener hears; the film the song originally came from, and its soundtrack album, were flops upon their initial release, but the power of Gardiner’s words has resonated long in underground music circles. Continue reading

Review: The Autopsy Of Jane Doe

This article was first published to The Edge on 31st January 2017

I’m by no means the person to ask about the history of horror in film, but you don’t have to be an expert to notice the subtext trend in the genre’s most recent successes. The Babadook is about depression and grief. The Witch is about fear of femininity and powers that a masculine worldview doesn’t understand. The Invitation, also about depression and grief. Last summer’s surprise hit Lights Out is concerned with the same, and the pain that families both hide and pass onto each generation. The Autopsy Of Jane Doe touches on all of these and more. It’s far from the best of the bunch, but it’s a punchy addition to the canon, bridging the gap between eerie chamber pieces like The Invitation, the atmospheric restraint of The Witch, and inevitably the more schlocky, booming crowd-pleaser tradition of Lights Out. It makes for a compelling, somewhat jarring stylistic and thematic cocktail. Continue reading

Film Review: American Honey

This article was originally published to The National Student on 10th October 2016

When Star (Sasha Lane) meets Jake (Shia LaBouef) he proposes that she join him and his friends in their work as a travelling magazine sales crew, in Andrea Arnold’s latest Cannes triumph. 

Their instant spark convinces her to abandon the broken and impoverished home life she leads in Kansas, and set out with the team. Under the watchful eye of the white trash queen bitch Krystal (Riley Keough), she travels the south and Midwest of America, selling subscriptions and experiencing a greater amount of life than she previously had. But as she pursues a relationship with Jake, her newfound freedom and family is placed in increasingly precarious situations.  Continue reading

Film Review: Nerve

This article was originally published to The National Student on 27th July 2016

★★★★☆

You’d be hard pressed to think of a film from the last year that opens with a scene more on-the-nose as Nerve.

NerveEmma Roberts’ Vee is procrastinating on her Macbook, Facebook stalking her high school’s football star, and listening to “sick choons” on Spotify. We see close ups of her cursor as it hovers over various icons; it waits temptingly over the “Like” button for her crush’s photo; we see her biting her lip, her facial movements tentative in extreme close-up; Vee gets a Facetime call from her best friend Sydney (Emily Meade). Continue reading

Justice League, Wonder Woman, Blair Witch and all the other best trailers from San Diego Comic-Con

This article was originally published to The National Student on 24th July 2016

Every July, film studios flock to San Diego Comic-Con, the biggest event of its kind in the world, to show off their latest productions to the nerdiest people in the world.

In recent years, to side step the piracy problem, those same studios have been releasing the footage they show there to the general public, within a few hours.

We’ve collected the best (or otherwise) footage revealed in the famed Hall H from the last few days, of the films you should know about over the next year.

Spoiler – there’s a lot of superheroes… Continue reading

Film Review: Star Trek Beyond

It’s difficult to imagine the recent abundance of spacefaring films existing without the success of J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot. Since then, Guardians Of The Galaxy, The Martian, and more, have boldly gone where Gene Roddenberry went first. The latter film especially, displayed the same ambitious vision of humanity as the original series: an unfailingly diverse set of people, using their problem solving abilities to save people, inspiring the planet at the same time. As much fun as Abrams’ first film in the franchise was, it’s always been more Star Wars than Star Trek; Into Darkness may as well have been any post-9/11 fear-infused action film, despite its ill-founded homaging of Wrath Of Khan. After that slight misfire, Paramount chose Justin Lin to replace Abrams. As a director known best for his orchestration of the unabashedly silly Fast & Furious films, it would be easy to dismiss him. It would also be wrong. Star Trek Beyond brings the en-vogue Pop fun of Guardians Of The Galaxy and the same hopeful attitude that The Martian wowed audiences with. It’s undeniably a modern blockbuster, yet it’s also the most classically Star Trek thing to wear the label in decades. Continue reading