The following post contains some thoughts for Darren Aronofsky’s mother! starring Jennifer Lawrence, and Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford. I tried my best to avoid spoilers but towards the end, I couldn’t contain myself when it came to mother!.
Also, I will probably be writing a bit more on Blade Runner 2049 in the future after I watch it a few more times.
What I love about films the most are the questions that they fill my head with. Before the film I start creating lists of questions to see if I can predict what is going to happen in the story or to see where things I saw in the trailer fell. During the film I interrogate the characters and the world, examining the seams and wondering how it all fits together. And once the film is over, sometimes I walk out asking what I just watched or who was that film actually for.
But today I’m not writing about my questions, but about the questions I find myself answering whenever I go see a film these days.
These are never easy questions. Rarely can I give a straight or blunt answer because many of these questions are pretty “loaded.”
Loaded may not quite be the right word for these questions, it usually implies that there is some sort of unjustified assumption or controversial idea, but I can’t think of a better way to describe them.
To help me break down these questions, and why I find them difficult to deal with, I’m going to talk about some of the “artsier” films I have seen recently.
What’s It About?
There are few questions I hate more than “what is that movie about?”
There is no good way to answer that question. If they didn’t tell you in the trailer it may be because that information spoils the film, or maybe there are multiple interpretations.
Looking at a film like Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, I can barely answer the question without underselling what the film actually is or spoiling some of what is to come in the film.
To be fair, I know why people ask this question with this film, all the trailer said was that “we will never forget” the film. I guess I could answer with the generic description you can find on IMDB: “A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.”
Yeah, that is a really base reading of the film, but in a way, it doesn’t prepare anyone for what they are getting into with this film.
Do I inject my thoughts when answering that question? Do I share aspects of Aronofsky’s manifesto which bluntly explains some of the symbolism of the film?
Does knowing the metaphors of the film take the wind out of its sails? Or does it enhance the experience of watching?
I also find myself wondering how much information the person asking wants. Do they want a synopsis so that they can make a decision of whether or not they actually need to go see the film?
In some ways, a film like Blade Runner 2049 is quite a bit easier to deal with.
IMDB makes it simple: “A young blade runner’s discovery of a long-buried secret leads him to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard, who’s been missing for thirty years.”
Yes, there is more to it than that, like questioning what it means to be human and how memories can shape who we are, and even the cosmic weight of questioning your entire existence when one clue breaks your worldview… but that may be a bit too much info right up front.
Few questions fill me with more cosmic dread than “thoughts?”
I know, I know, you follow me because you are interested in my thoughts. It’s also the best way to get a sense of if a film is worth seeing, especially if your opinions on films are often aligned with who you are asking.
But, with the films I am talking about here, films that you could say aren’t exactly made for the broadest of audiences, this question changes for me and needs much more qualifications.
Let’s take an edited version of my initial thoughts on mother!, posted the night I saw the film.
It’s really hard to talk about a film like “mother!” without “spoilers.” There are things I want to say but I want to respect people’s ability to go into the film clean.
What I will say is that I personally found the film a bit too direct with what it was trying to say. I found myself somewhere between bored and restless for most of the film. I checked my watch quite a bit hoping things would pick up the pace, but when they did I found myself not caring.
The film is intentionally being deceptively marketed to get audiences who want to see a horror-thriller through the doors because they gave way too much money to an experimental director.
It’s really an unpleasant watch and I imagine that most people who do end up seeing it will be disgusted. I’d go as far to say that there are a few sequences that will actually trigger people… I watched people walk out of the theater during a few points.
Can’t say much more than that without slipping into massive spoilers. I’d be really interested to talk to someone who really enjoys this film…
I guess that sounds like I hated the film… believe me, I didn’t. But as I share my thoughts, especially on Facebook, I often have to write with the broadest possible audience in mind.
If it were just my artist friends I was writing for, I would have talked more about the biblical imagery, or how sequences within the film reminded me of Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings.
Like a studio marketing a film, I find myself questioning what my own broadest possible audience needs to here in order to make their decision.
This thinking is what informed the very short reflection I wrote for Blade Runner 2049.
Blade Runner 2049 is super long, and some of the subplots don’t end up anywhere, but the cinematography, score, editing, and some other nice touches kept it enjoyable. It also did a good job of continuing to ask the question of what it means to be human. That said, I can see a broad audience being really bored with this film because of the length and some of the scenes dragging on way too long.
I know this sounds pretty non-committal and it is. I wrote this specifically knowing two different audiences were reading the post.
My film-loving friends could take the exact pieces that they need from that. They have a sense of what they are getting. At the same time, those who want something fast-paced know that this film may not be for them.
I feel like I have started to approach writing about films in this way as a type of defense against this next question…
Is it a good movie?
DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW SUBJECTIVE THIS QUESTION IS?
For me, this is perhaps the most loaded of the questions. It’s not really asking for my personal opinion often. It is asking me to make a judgment call on whether or not the person who is asking will think it is good.
I realize that defending myself from this question often causes me to really pull my personal opinion of a film out of my quick reviews, causing them to be much more objective and leaving things in the hands of the reader.
In a way, I feel like that’s why my initial thoughts on Blade Runner 2049 do it a major disservice.
Putting my cards on the table, I really like the Director’s and Final Cuts of the original Blade Runner, and I personally count it in my favorite science-fiction movies. Yeah it is long and parts of it are a bit hard to watch, but I love the feel and the music and found myself continually inspired by the artistry on display within the film.
So when I heard they were making a sequel, I was skeptical but excited. I made sure to buy my IMAX ticket, and I was in the theatre early for the earliest Thursday screening.
I was not disappointed. It crawled a bit in places like the original, but it was perhaps more beautiful than the original, it expanded the universe we only had a taste of before, and it got my head swimming with questions around what it means to be human all over again.
I took mental screenshots throughout the entire film, thinking about what shots I could make into wallpapers or what I would print out and frame for my wall if I could. The composition of each shot in the film was perfection. Hell, in writing this, I downloaded almost all of the press images for the film that were shared on the official website.
The visual direction, costuming, sets, color palette, all of it was perfect and evoked the high-tech, lo-fi future established in the first Blade Runner. The world feels real, lived in, a place we could go.
The score is an interesting departure from Vangelis’ original masterwork, with Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch doing their part to create a sense of wonder and discovery as we explore aspects of the world we hadn’t seen over 30 years ago.
Subtracting Jared Leto, I never know what this guy is doing or why he is the way he is, the performances in this film are phenomenal. I always love Ryan Gosling and think he is at his best when he is playing an “incomplete” or “broken” character, which he does again here.
Sylvia Hoeks’ Luv is striking, beautiful and terrifying, Dave Bautista adds a new restrained layer to his acting ability, Robin Wright provides a solid and convincing performance as K’s boss at the LAPD, and Ana de Armas’ Joi provides an interesting insight into a commodified form of love that evoked thoughts of the film Her.
Harrison Ford… was Harrison Ford, honestly, he is always kind of the same. The fact that in real life he doesn’t really want to be there makes it easier for him to act like someone who doesn’t want to be there.
So yeah, is that film good? In my opinion, it is great and one of my favorite films of the year.
On the other side of things, mother! is a much harder film for me to put my thoughts behind and to celebrate. Almost the entire time I was watching the film I kept asking myself, is this good?
The performances were fine, Jennifer Lawrence does nothing for me ever, Javier Bardem was his normal weird and intense self. Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer were good. The stage was unremarkable to me, as the entirety of the story took place in one house in the middle of nowhere.
Visually it was well constructed, the composition, colors, and tones worked for the story being told. The sound design was good, though the score was unmemorable.
Like many of Darren Aronofsky’s films, it is hard to watch, lingering with you like a stomachache, leaving you unsettled and contemplative.
But does that make it good?
Well… screw it… no, it’s not good. The film thinks it is more compelling than it is, serving as an allegory and retelling of the Old and New Testaments with a Mother Nature angle thrown in there. It doesn’t say anything new or compelling, forces us to watch J-Law boringly walk around a house until all hell breaks loose, and then makes us watch a crowd kill and eat a baby… who doesn’t love that Christ symbolism?
Just thinking about this film again is getting me hot, let’s move on to that last question that folks ask…
Should I go see it?
Sometimes I just want to answer this with, do you want to see it?
My short answer is this: If there is a film that I feel like people should not go see, I will say so in all caps.
Everyone has different tastes and they need to think about what they want to see, and what they can handle.
I may not think that mother! is “good” but I think it is a film worth talking about and worth seeing. It represents a studio taking a chance on art and letting a director bring their most raw emotions and ideas to screen. That said, it is not a film that everyone will be able to stomach, and I think, in this case, take heed of the trigger warning.
At the same time, I may love Blade Runner 2049, but it isn’t going to be for every audience. It is not a high-octane, sci-fi, action movie. It’s a slow-burn thriller and mystery. On top of that, it does rely heavily on the original, a divisive film that many have not even seen.
My overall opinion: Support these films so that we can continue to get high-budget, well-made films from directors who take risks and make films that don’t necessarily fit the normal formulas that studio films usually have to adhere to in order to be financially successful.
I told myself I was going to keep this one short… sorry about that. Anyways, I hope this gives you some insight into my thought process when it comes to talking about movies and giving recommendations. So, let me ask you all some questions. Did you find mother! to be a compelling watch? Was Blade Runner 2049 an instant classic for you? What questions do you love to ask when it comes to films you are thinking about seeing?