Monday, September 18, 2017

Culture Diary - Day 6: I Want to Make a Paradise

9/15/17 – 9/18/17

I have seen mother!, and I am disheartened. Not by the film, but by, let’s say, ancillary matters. To begin with, the absurd choice made by Paramount to open this film as though it had any hope of being a box office champ has led many people to complain that this new provocation from Darren Aronofsky, marketed as a horror film only to end up being a kind of horror film that most people don’t like, or even see in the first place, thereby obscuring what mother! actually is. As a matter of fact, this is sort of the whole problem in a nutshell. For about maybe half of its length, mother! is a sort of horror film, one that could have been made by Polanski at one time (and sort of was, Aronofsky’s nods to Rosemary’s Baby being frequent and clear), until the film eventually begins to take shape by almost literally exploding. It’s finally an absurdist, intentionally comic, still horrifying, satire in the form of a Bunuelian nightmare, or a nightmare in the form of a Bunuelian satire (oh take it easy, a film doesn’t need to be As Good As to be In the Spirit Of). In response to the film’s extreme and had-to-be-expected divisiveness, I said elsewhere that if mother! had been made in the 1970s and had gone mostly unseen since then until it turned up tucked away in a “Polish New Wave” Eclipse box set, all the naysayers would be kissing the hem of its maternity dress. I thought that was pretty good at the time, though admittedly as arguments go, it suffers from existing entirely within the boundaries of that “If” and that “.” You can’t expand on the point. It’s not provable. mother! was not made in the 1970s and is not tucked away in any box set (not yet, anyway); it’s playing, remarkably, inexplicably, on multiplex theaters across the country.
All of this has shaped the conversation about Aronofsky’s boldest (which isn’t to say best) film yet in a way that makes mother! sound like some sort of goofy mistake, if you don’t like the film, and if you do, well…I mean, I do. But I’m very put off by a couple of things, one of which is that the film is, when all is said and done, a horrifying religious satire, one that damns the concept of believing in a God who, it often seems, can be pretty cruel. This al9ne is fine, but that the religious imagery and narrative manipulated here is that of the New Testament is, first off, interesting as mother! follows Noah (I almost wrote noah!) in Aronofsky’s filmography, the latter an intensely ambitious, sensitive, and moving Old Testament epic from a director who is an outspoken atheist. That some people (including Jennifer Lawrence, the film’s star) almost gleeful in their anticipation of the offended howls they hope to hear from the faithful is not so much “interesting” as “fucking typical.” And that a film like mother! can be made only because it chooses which major world religion it wants to drag through the mud very cannily, and very safely, is, well, I guess “fucking typical” applies here, too. There’s the whiff of chickenshit about all this.
Yet the film itself is pretty terrific, maybe even brilliant. It’s just that the conversation makes me tired (hypocritically – I’ve engaged in it as much as anyone. Why? No one’s been begging to hear my side of this). This experience reminds me that living quietly with one’s own opinion of and thoughts about a work of art can be (always is?) much more satisfying and enriching than, you know, sharing them with anybody else. Who needs that kind of hassle? Maybe I’m having a bad week. Or weeks. Whatever’s going on, from here on out I think I’d rather think of mother! as something that belongs only to me, and I can do with it as I please.
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I watched some other stuff, but if you don’t mind I’ll blow through it and keep this one short. On Saturday I watched It Comes at Night, Trey Edward Shults follow-up to his terrific “bad Thanksgiving” drama Krisha. Speaking of films that may or not belong to the horror genre, this is another one of those! And I liked it a great deal. Along with really responding to, as I did with Krisha, responding to Shults’s brooding style which slowly builds the everyday experiences of its characters into a kind of unexpected and ruinous bonfire, I appreciated that It Comes at Night plays not like a novel stuffed into 90 minutes, as so many movies do, but rather as a spare and powerful short story. Where it goes is bleak and inevitable. Also, I think Joel Edgerton is a hell of an actor.
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Finally, in my quest to see every movie Arch Oboler ever made, I finally got a chance to check out The Bubble, from 1966. This would turn out to be Oboler’s penultimate work as a film director, but it feels like the kind of thing that would have launched him. It’s about a husband and his pregnant wife who are being flown(?) to the hospital by a private pilot they hired like he was a cabbie or something, and what with one thing or another, they all end up stranded in a bizarre town that resembles a studio backlot (that’s their take on it) populated almost solely by figures who appear to be real people but behave like animatronic robots. Eventually they discover that this town is enclosed by a thick, clear plastic bubble that goes who knows how high into the sky, and who knows how deep into the ground.
It’s a good idea, but I was bugged by how casually our heroes initially shrug off all the strange behavior of the townspeople – it’s as though Oboler didn’t want them to react to it until he was ready for it. Plus the ending is an anticlimactic whiff. I see Oboler as a poor man’s Rod Serling, and boy what Serling might have done with this idea. It might not have been very good, but it would have gone somewhere.
But I liked The Bubble despite all that. It’s goofy and charming, sometimes eerie. It’s no Five, but it’s fine. How’s that for an anticlimax??

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