Darren Aronofsky's controversial new film stokes the anxiety of socializing and being around other people.
It's 2017, and we have Instagram stars, phone dating, automated tellers, online reservation websites and shopping, programmed babysitting services, Skype meetings, and more electronic options than we know what to do with. The convenience is astounding. But in this era of everything being at our fingertips, we've lost the ability to be around people. In fact, we have a heightened annoyance of others, an anxiety around the mere idea of social activity. This reality makes a film like mother!, the latest from writer/director Darren Aronofsky, that much more uncomfortable to watch.
mother! plays right into the introvert's deepest fears by presenting a young wife (Jennifer Lawrence), age appropriate for the social media era, who's so socially averse that the thought of stepping foot outside her home fills her with blinding terror. She spends her days nesting in her house, painting and making the gigantic structure as cozy for herself as possible. She's married to a writer (Javier Bardem), which means he spends a lot of time in solitude. So in theory, they're a perfect match. Or so she thinks. Once he starts welcoming random folks into their home—people who want to smoke in her foyer, meddle around in her husband's sacred office, and throw wild parties in his honor—she comes to the startling realization that the man she married isn't who she thought he was. In fact, he's someone who cherishes adoration from strangers and likes to accumulate them by the minute.
Sound familiar? We do that on Twitter and Facebook: relish in how many people we don't know can comment and like things we post with little to no context whatsoever. It makes us feel better about ourselves, albeit in a contrived way. Bardem's character is no exception when he suddenly comes into popularity with his new book and becomes a little too comfortable with it. His growing fan base—indiscriminate of manners, consideration, or any kind of social awareness of course—frightens Lawrence's character. So much so that their quiet home erupts into a gathering place for the barbaric and morally deprived—with guests bouncing on her delicate kitchen counter, destroying her hardwood floors, making out in her own bedroom, invading her cherished personal space, and putting everything that matters to her in peril.
Regardless of whether what's happening is real or exacerbated by her fear, there is no denying that this is precisely what it feels like for introverts to be in social situations, especially in their own home from which they can't escape. It's stifling. Their home is supposed to be the one place where they can be safe, where they don't have to try to come up with inane small talk, where they can be away from anyone who disrupts their regimented existence where everything is in its place. It's where they don't feel the need to perform. So, this situation would send any introvert into a panic.
It doesn't help that her husband has already abandoned her at this point. He's frolicking with his new faux friends while their relationship, now more like two cohabitating individuals than a romantic couple, quite literally bursts into flames after being cracked open by the stampede of unwanted tenants. We don't really get to know either of them very well, though, so our concern for their sustainability is minor at best. Hell, we only know them as Mother and Him, like two egg avatars with blank Twitter bios. Because they're so engrossed in their own insecurity, so consumed by what someone else thinks of them, that they're merely orbiting each other in their own home. But we know that Mother is comforted by the idea of him being just like her—socially opposed and content—that when he shatters that perception, he too becomes a threat to her. This new reality, compounded by his overwhelming celebrity, nearly suffocates her. And yet, he does nothing to protect her from it, betraying her at her most vulnerable in favor of his newfound acclaim.
mother! is what happens when the introvert's anonymity is compromised in the most egregious way in their own home, when they're forced to assimilate to something as bizarre and invasive as celebrity despite the fact that it goes against everything that they are. With the story of Mother and Him, Aronofsky confronts the brutality of fame and fandom and the conflict they present in our growing society of individuals whose social reflexes have evaporated and whose self-worth is dependent on external forces. How they react to a social construct not of their making, something we all have had to do at some point in our lives, is what ultimately determines their survival—making a horror like mother! that much more viscerally frightening.
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