I left Darren Aronofsy’s new film mother! with a lot to think about. Don’t worry, this isn't going to be a movie review; I have neither the interest nor the chops needed to provide one of those.
A lot of people I know and respect hated the movie and I understand why one would have that response. Among its failings has to be counted a marketing campaign that positioned it as a horror film. While horrifying, that isn’t what it is. I liked it—I might want to say I loved it, but, as with really difficult theater, I’m not sure that’s quite an emotion one can sustain toward this piece. I suspect it’s a movie that, in spite of its high-powered cast might have been better placed in arthouse cinemas than the AMC cineplex I saw it in. It has more in common with a move like Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In than than IT. When we were walking back to the car, Fernando noted the way it felt like a story by Cortázar. That, too, seems right.
The movie’s best (or maybe, most easily) seen as an allegory. As with the best allegories, it operates at different levels. At the most obvious level, we have a stark and unsympathetic retelling of Christian salvation history with its Garden of Eden, Fall, the murder of Abel by Cain, Incarnation and Redemption, and even Apocalypse. A student told me that he thought the movie “tried too hard,” and maybe the allegory is a little on the nose at this level. I don’t think so, but opinions may vary.
At another level, though, Bardem is not God—nor even the lesser creative mind he might represent at yet another level of allegory—but instead might represent any one of us. He stands for a perennial facet of the human condition that finds more expression in our world of immediate and total connection.
Bardem’s Him has someone in Lawrence’s mother! who loves him completely. She lives for Him, has created a world for Him, serves Him, and, as we see, is willing to die for Him and give Him her love as her ultimate gift. Only her child is able to compete with Him for her devotion.
Alas, it is not enough. As Bardem’s character says, “It is never enough.” That’s not a situation peculiar to a God who creates a world in order to be loved and who wants even the worst of His creatures to love him. It’s a situation many, if not all, of us find ourselves, one that’s exacerbated by the connectedness of our world.
As much as Him, I find myself searching for the approbation of people I barely know or who merely barely know people I barely know. Too often, I do that at the cost of appreciating and returning the real love and affection of those few who are closest to me, those few who invest their energies and lives in me.
That’s not new. As long as there have been crowds, we’ve looked for the superficial and fickle love of the crowds over the deeper, more constant, and therefore more real love of our true intimates. No matter the axiom, the birds in the bush are more attractive than the one in hand because they are yet to be captured.
For the first time in human history, however, most of us in the technologically advanced world have the real ability to chase a crowd. An insignificant fellow like myself could never have gathered more than a handful of people around himself before the last decade or so. Now, I can reach out to scores or hundreds of “followers” or “friends” on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Snapchat or whatever will come in their wake. Because their approval, their likes, their retweets, their shares are outside my control, it can be tempting to work harder for them than I ought. It can be just as tempting to overvalue them, to be too buoyed when I get them and too hard hit when I don’t. The energy, whether positive or negative, that’s expended and created in this chase can only come at the cost of other social interactions. Whatever else might be said about me—about us—our emotional capacities are limited. To paraphrase one of Nietzsche’s criticisms of Christianity for another purpose—I think I’m getting this right—he who loves everyone, loves no one. Or, as Aristotle had it, one cannot have more than a few friends and expect them actually to be friends. In chasing a million interactions as though they were the most important, I run the risk of losing the ones that are most important. In making sure than I’m not alone, I might just end up that way.
That might just be me, but I think it might also be a more general truth.