Sunday, April 01, 2018

Easter Acid Cinema Special: MOTHER!

Darren Aronofsky's controversial psychedelic scarring ritual MOTHER finally visited my psyche. Man, what a party. This ain't your mom's hardcore psychosexual "puts the bile back in bible" allegory, so why was I led to be scared of it by a bunch of babies who made me think it was Requiem for a Dream II: The Reckoning?

Sure, Mother! delivers horrific shocks. But not Requiem's slow grinding torture that anyone who knows the horrors of withdrawal, or epilepsy will have a seizure over. Instead, Mother seems to be made a long time ago, before the advent of morality. It's a whole new kind of crazy, far more traumatizing (to some) than even Requiem author Hubet Selby Jr. would think to go in all his grotty Brooklyn exit naughtiness. Relentless forward momentum pulls this Mother so far forward it becomes backwards again, reverse-catapulting Darren Aronofsky into the D.W. Griffith future at the dawn of bible studies Pickfordianism. Darren A. walks the land of the artsy giants of primordial surrealism, a gut-punch Buñuel for the post-irony age. His is a truly organic flowing biblical message, wrapped in an autobiographical treatise on being a famous filmmaker. His scathing view of celebrity hangers-on makes the relentless pawing of the 8 1/2 entourage-barrage seem like the perfectly blended loft apartment full of adopted revelers in Zoolander.  Treading boldly through the thorny throngs of a packed party of lingerers, Darren A. knows that just telling the tales of the Old Testament without sugary dozing-in-the-pew piety will leads to scenes far more lurid than any Cecil B. DeMille might devise for his Sign and The Cross. For Darren, Christians and their Cronus-like cannibal sacraments are far more horrific than any Old Testament burnt offering, hundreds of doves nailed to the temple door-demanding god can hope to equal.

Who else even comes close to this kind of filmmaking? Who has this amount of guts, in both senses of the word? There's Guy Maddin, whose work finds weird new Freudian melting points within his Winnipeg freeform retro-expressionism, but his Canadian decency keeps him from digging down where the titans are chained. There's David Lynch, Lars Von Trier, and Gaspar Noe, sitting with Aronofsky now in a kind of grim 'heedless stare into the screaming void at the center of the human condition.'

A mix of allegorical pretension, slow-building freak-out panic theater group happening, and straight-up horror, MOTHER is a grueling/exhilarating parable about the savagery that is the human reproductive system once it's run shy of predators and herd-thinning pestilence. If Mama Jones can't whip up a plague virulent enough to get humanity down to a manageable population count, we ourselves become the plague. Will we have arrived in paradise when we at last give up the need to procreate a foot further?

"Why did I ever make 'em?"

Chronicling a veritable Old Testament of wrath and vengeance, the NC-17 white person sexualThe Green PasturesMother, right. Off-the-cuff savagery is so seamlessly amplified that an ordinary celebration can devolve into a pagan sacrificial rite before you know it, all in one take. The whole history of our presence in 'the house' is succinctly, scathingly surmised here or in the animated opening credit sequence of Soylent Green. (See: Idiot Wind of the Locusts) but also, in real-time, seemingly, it's just how a  Woodstock can become a full-on Altamont fracas before you can find a place to hide your valuables.'s not just the bible getting analyzed and reimagined in Mother, but the messianic complex that results from excessive fame and how it affects the creative process (one can't create in a house packed with admirers following you around, eating your food, and loudly wondering when you're going to create again). In indulging his masochistic shock value yen so completely, Aronofsky pulls his own mask off, showing the mirror the wormy, decaying face therein. We're no longer feeling the sexualized (always) brutality of Man through abused Selby-penned prostitutes. We're feeling imposed on and exploited through the earth elemental that is Mother. Subjected to the relentless neediness of the unwashed masses, hers are the gates crashed in an acid-spurred rush, ala the hippies refusing to pay for tickets and just taking down the fences, overwhelming security with their sheer hippy numbers at the 1968 Isle of Wight Festival. 

Piercing phallically through many layers of subtext, both personal (fame as parasite magnet; perfect artistic creations kill their creator), and sociological (an uncircumcised logocentric thrust deep into morass of chthonic madness), Mother! digs down so deep it's surely the film to goose Camille Paglia in finally finish the second part of Sexual Personae. It's Darren Aronofsky's love letter to his legions of slavering townie fans--a thank you for soiling his lawn with their discipling. It functions like the shin bones of saints in alcoves of Italian churches. Their crucified bodies are rent limb-from-limb by hungry faithful. Chunks of the cross are able to heal the sick, especially the parts with blood stains. It's believed the saint's holy power is preserved at the moment of his holiest agony. Body parts scatter around the world like Osiris's before them. A little finger joint in a shrine in County Cork, Ireland, a metacarpel in Palermo--they are all like connected with earth electricity, powering the two-way radio to God. They are Christianty at its most strange and savage, a call back to the time before the flood

Ala Christopher Nolan or David Lynch, Aronofsky is one of the names even the most casual public viewer has heard of. He's in the trades. He's currently dating Jennifer Lawrence, a younger woman, and doing so right out in the public eye, the public not being too worried about it, since Lawrence can take care of herself and Aronofsky's films are so twisted it's clear he's a relatively sane, safe sort of guy. (It's the ones who make the sane films you've got to watch out for). So hey, if he wants to posit himself as God, I'm all for that. I'm a writer too, and can still be a poet if the ratio of flu and Robitussin is just right (hint hint). Javier Bardem is one of my favorite actors and did a fine job capturing the life of a poet once before (as in his 2000 portrayal of the AIDs-stricken Cuban refugee poet Reinaldo Arenas in Before Night Falls) and can surely be a god, too, with ease. Both poet and god are difficult roles to pull off, without lapsing into pretentiousness or absurdity--as in all those 60s major films that try to capture the beat era. Bardem never comes close to either pitfall. When it comes to acting, he is a God and his ability to navigate the mounting chaos without losing his fathomless cool is truly inspiring. I've had a mancrush on him since his unforgettable Santeria practitioner in 1997's Perdita Durango (aka Dance with the Devil) so I've been watching his career from the get-go, so I'm so glad to see he's spending his time wisely, eschewing the traditional prestige pics that so often weigh down Oscar winners, in favor of flavors closer to his funky Almodovar roots. (seek out Law of Desire --it'll blow your mind, and whatever else you have laying around). And Mother stands with his best, weirdest work yet.

I confess: l loathed Aronofsky after Requiem for a Dream. I feel like that movie violated me. Yet I loved The Wrestler and have seen Black Swan six times. I tried to watch Noah and couldn't get past the idiocy of the first six hours and The Fountain -good god that's some pretty-lookin' twaddle. But Jesus, Requiem captured the insanity of a brain tortured by the twin fires of addiction (which distorts time and space) and withdrawal (which is literal hell) ... that's just handled too damn well. I know that pain-- every anguished tick of the heart clock is like a punishing jolt of electric current and institutional patriarchal malice. And with that brilliant, but utterly traumatizing, strobe light sexual editing style, it's like getting raped through the eye.

2. Forgiving REQUIEM

But Mother! is a film about forgiving the people who trespass against you, suggesting that the whole reason trespassing occurs is to create something to forgive. It's an old trick God pulls on us: making things so very, very terrible because otherwise forgiveness wouldn't have the same epiphanic kick. By middle age you either have to forgive the world unconditionally or open fire on it (though I know that's not 'in' right now). So I forgive Darren his eye-rape trespasses. And instead I blame  the people who said Mother was way worse than Requiem, which is why I waited so long to see it instead of racing breathlessly to one theater after another, with a dirty stuffed rabbit in my hand, going "have you seen my daughter! Her name is Jenny! JENNY!!!" but then running away, tittering like a maniac before the cops came.

Instead I was led to believe that people were walking out in shock during screenings for the same reason I had to leave during Wolf Creek. And maybe it is as disturbing if you're a 'normal' family man/woman with a baby instead of a recovering addict or alcoholic. If you're all normal and don't know the profound terror and relentless despair-soaked agonies of drug or or alcohol withdrawal--a feeling that just gets worse and worse, like a hangover that doubles in intensity every hour you don't take a medicinal 'hair of the dog' drink, until you're in such distress that submitting to a night of base group molestation by a horde of filthy old perverts is nothing if you end up re-supplied for the week. You'll even dip your hand in a Rio Bravo barroom spittoon for a silver dollar just to get a drink enough to take the shakes away even for an hour. It's why they use heroin in the white slave trade. It's mind control at its most horrific, 

That was where Aronofsky went for Requiem, the Pulsing 'in/out-in/out' "ass-to-ass" electro-shock so callously done to speed freak Ellen Burstyn until she's foaming at the mouth, synced in epileptic seizure cross-cuts, with the super demeaning and depressing and terrifying "ass to ass" grinding of dear Jennifer; Marlon Wayans undergoing withdrawal in a southern jail cell, and Jared Leto getting his arm amputated, all done in a series of brutalizing rhythmic crosscuts like being raped simultaneously in four separate time zone orifices.

Walking out of that movie on shaky legs, I was so mad at Darren Aronofsky I wanted to go his house and break some windows. I was not alone in feeling violated. Walking up the aisle after it ended, we saw a woman literally unable to get up out of her chair because she either had had an epileptic seizure or panic attack as we walked past. If Darren had gotten up to take questions and our legs weren't wobbly from the ordeal, I'd have rushed the stage and beaten him up (like my buddy John LaGreco and his brother Chuck used to do when they went to the same elementary school, something I never tire of reporting because Requiem upset me so badly).

When Requiem came to theaters, in 2000, you see, we still had some of our souls left to lose. Though every last scrap was being optioned for whatever shock value was still left to wring from it, every name-for-himself auteur amping up the ultra-violence for their own special narrative purpose, making sure we felt the pain of the victims, the turbulent brutality of a man on speed or coke, his empathy eaten away, relishing in the pain of the other. The more of this stuff we watched the more desensitized we became, until--like some James Wood TV station owner--you'd have to watch Japanese hentai or torture porn just to feel alive. Man, the anti-porn crusaders turned out to be right, and now we're fucked. 

Am I hero for being sickened by Requiem but not Mother!? Definitely not. How dare the 'people' steer me away from Mother! which is clearly one of the best films of last year, maybe this decade's Mulholland Drive? At the very least its our Viridiana! It's not about addiction, but about what it's like to be sober and sane while everyone around you is drunk and destroying your apartment, or being at a rock concert where you everyone around you is packed in, struggling to get closer to the stage, screaming and singing and swaying and grinding off each other in the cult-like adoration of the band onstage and you're trapped up there with 'em. You just came to score shrooms and don't really like the Dead (aside from some of the Jerry-sung better, earlier songs, "China Cat," etc.) and hate crowds and now the drugs are really kicking in and you couldn't fight your way out if you wanted to. I know that feeling. And it's about being impotent (or suffering premature ejaculation), maybe secretly gay, maybe middle-aged and definitely Viagara-less, with a wife who just wants to get into bed with you, clinging and needy, her whole beautiful body like a dangerous lure that frightens you with its raw desire. It's like when you're just wanting to get loaded and your girlfriend is trying to drag you home, restless and anxious, trying to steer you away from the booze and weirdness into her tedious arms. "You've had enough!" she scolds. But the yawning fear is still there, the fear of her chasm of need. "You give and you give," notes  Michelle Pfieffer's character, "and you give". 

Like Saint Joan of Arc, I forgive Darren. I understand. I absolve. It kills me to do so, but Jesus will catch me before I fall too far into the flames. 

2. Jonesers Overrun the After-Party (Fame)

(Semi Slow-SPOILERS ahead) What makes the first half of the film, with its esoteric bits of symbolism and Lynchian soundscape manipulations, so worthwhile is a truly crazy second act. Occurring over a single night, it moves seamlessly from Jennifer's Mother Nature trying to have a quiet night at home with her man (she's serving a very special dinner for two), to an impromptu party full scale riot, and onwards from there to even darker extremes. It's perhaps the most terrifying and exhilarating extended 'real time' sequence since the surreal Khatyn-esque massacre finale of Elem Klimov's 1985 film, Come and See. It perfectly captures the nightmare that occurs when your small acid trip get-together that turns--against your wishes but you're too high to protest.-- into a full-on call the cops Saturday night townie party. What was once a cool quiet evening 'encounter' in a safe space ends up a mob scene, everyone inviting everyone else's friends over, looking to get in on the psychedelic love session whether you want them around or not, because hey, it's supposed to be a loving safe share-everything environment, so let's share everything we got; I got nothing, bro - you can have your fill of my empty pockets. So what do you got? Gimme gimme! Now you got nothing, too! Bro, lets you me go share everything we got with someone else. 

Man, as we say in AA, I think I still have some lingering resentment, all amped up with bad acid trip PTSD.  Forgive them, Erich... omm.

Jesus mobbed by lepers - Jesus Christ Superstar 
Mother seeks solace from the brushstroke of her whiteness 

Forgive them, counsels the Man. That's the ultimate thing, through it all, Javier's poet is beyond all materialism. The masses' horrible feverish neediness--a million ravenous mouths piling up around a dozen nipples until all is gone. 

But Javier's god points beyond the apocalyptic wasteland, gesturing at the distant heavenly horizon that waits once one has finally crawled beyond the valley of duality and ego. Forgiving and loving the million claws and clockwork grinding gears that rend your agonized body / soul to shreds can earn you some serious wings. 

Is this what is left then, when all is taken? The only thing that is eternal? Unseen until this crust of impurities are washed away you cannot see it. That's faith. Only the soapy water that first cleans the feet of a million hungry rats can wash away the muck from around your blazing lighthouse beam.

Ugh, but what a mess for the maid on Monday.

3. Psychedelic Set and Setting - Interrupted

One of the more terrible ideas, in my mind, has always been the way acid, ecstasy and shrooms, i.e. the 'major' psychedelics are most which is at big raves and college parties and the worst time is late night, for energy. Any big college party, especially one on Friday or Saturday night, has a stretch of 2-5 hours--from around 12-2, where the great unwashed filter through. Usually this means long chains of nervous boys trailing their alpha like a centipede of nervous, hungry glances, leaving a choking trail of Axe body spray. a lame approximation of bravado is affixed to their faces, but they got no game or humility. An unrealistic media-instilled sense of entitlement pollutes their every action. They've been taught by a thousand movies that college parties are where you get 'laid' and do keg stands. But they can't find the keg, and are scared to ask, and girls--forget about it. Girls, even single ones, seldom stay long enough for these boys to get traction, so around 3 AM it ends up being a dude fest, the alcoholics (you) and the people too fucked up to find the door. There you are, tripping your face off, surrounded by pale normie packs of jonesers, wallies, and moochers sitting around, taking up valuable couch space, waiting until the night pays them what they think they're owed for coming out, forcing their way into your chambers to beg drungs or ask for a number from your cool platonic female friend roster. Neither of which you give. 

I know that if you're reading this then you are one of the cool ones. You get it. And you know tripping your face around those creeps and their blank-faced wally coteries, is the worst --all their amped-up rapey insecurity and normie blandness, their terrible townie teeth, or--on the flip--their nerdy smarm-clouded insecurity wherein they think a single beer makes them bold, yet their insights are like lead balloons hanging on your would-be airborne dosed soul.

Forgive them. 

Thanks to the flush of psychedelic awakening, you lose your discernment and become all godlike and forgiving them their trespasses, trying to quickly amp up their style, even giving them articles of your cool raiment, for you move so quickly beyond attachment when properly dosed, you transcend the need to own anything. The power of psychedelics being such that it can override your own discerning ego's judgment, their normie plight can move rather than disgust you. But that disgust has a purpose, as you will find out later.

 Jesus was nice to these people too, and look where it got him!

I'm horrified by abuse of psychedelics, which are God's special glasses that let us behold heaven and hell in advance. When I see youtube videos of idiot kids smoking salvia in the living room, with the TV blasting some obnoxious after school MTV reality show while the smoker twitches on the floor and the idiot camera person zooms in and out on their face, an offscreen voice going oooooh and everyone snickering, I'm deeply horrified. It makes me understand perhaps why parents worry about their children and try to make everything illegal. How about a little respect for the human mind? Salvia, done right, is a spiritually transformative tool. if not, it's just ugly, scary -- teenagers tramping all over Salvia's interdimensional garden (if you do it right, you meet her, raising her children from pots like Troll 2. 

Imagine if instead of all that it gets used in church. The priest trains the young in proper respect for psychedelics, lessens their fear, so that when they are old and afraid of dying, the priest can give them shrooms or ecstasy, making the beyond seem beautiful and inviting. Instead, parents, in demonizing all drugs, seeing no difference between good drugs like shrooms and bad ones like coke or meth, give this huge power to any profit-mined drug dealer. The result? Some scabby hep-C sleazebag peddles ecstasy to your daughter and she thinks he's frickin' Jesus and wants to marry him. Pot wasn't a gateway because of its effects, but because the parental hysteria over it--which made trying it so scary to you at first. If that fear was unfounded for pot, it must be unfounded for everything else too. So a career criminal becomes her parent, her teacher, shaping her psychedelic expansion like some Manson-esque guru. In short, legalize it or your children are MINE!

4. Unforgiven Trespasses (The Gulls Descend)
(Jesus Christ Superstar - Jesus had the right idea, fuck 'em)

I'm glad this came around on DVD and I could post this right before watching JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR live on ABC, as that musical and MOTHER share that subtext: the idea that opening your arms in love leads to having your organs harvested. Opening your house to strangers leads to a home invasion that, once begun, never ends until every last thing of value in your house is trashed and/or stolen, including your own children and you are leftsick and wild-eyed as the sun comes up and they finally drive away (to Mars to start with?), leaving your floors awash in toxins. After Jesus Christ Superstar watch Mother! and you have a real scathing sad truth to any spiritual enlightenment humility trip. No matter how much wine your drained corpse produces, how many loaves and wafers your flesh can be diced into, the masses never stop coming forward making "pan! pan!" gestures like those Suddenly Last Summer beach boy sea gulls. Save yourself! Or trust your Osiris saint parts will electrify into a whole new world after you are rended limb from limb. 

The beggars Viridiana invites to dinner--as she's so Christian and noble.

5. Art is Violence: Forgiveness is Divine in direct proportion to the Unforgiveableness of the Offense/s

This is the "it" at the core of all truth - the art, once created, turns back around to rend the artist limb from limb with its inconceivable needs. The Frankenstein Monster, loosed upon the world thus changes it, and the reaping returns to his creator, the shocked doctor/artist The doctor suddenly wakes up with an electric jolt, realizing he's been dead and is now strapped down to a table while God stares at him, dolefully. "He's horrible!" he shouts. But then, he turns around and loves him anyway, like Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein. 

Oliver Stone has been sued by the victims of a child who rampaged with his girlfriend after watching Natural Born Killers; Kubrick worked to pull A Clockwork Orange out of circulation in England after a rapist sang "Singin' in the Rain", Judas Priest was dragged into court by the bereaved parents of a hideously burned child who heard the Satanic messages in their music. Is this the takeaway message here? Be careful of what you create? Should Aronofsky be chased up the windmill or dragged there by his own creation?

If you're going to make something, better make sure you forgive yourself in advance for the sin of having made it. Madness awaits the judging sober critic at the loud raucous rock show. Take it from me, who wound up rent to the marrow by the ceaseless thirst of his own pain-wracked body.

Before it's too late, thank yourself for your own advance forgiveness of your future offense. It's the only way you're ever going to finish what you started... so you can start again.... again. 

PS - Believe me when I swear: I was once sincere in my desire to forgive the seagulls, recognizing them as manifestations of my own sick addiction by visiting my meditation / holy babble poetry site: MEDSITATION. Seems, though, by the tenor of this piece, I'm far from that shore these days.

See also past Easter Acid Holiness:

And the Psychedelic Scrooge Satori!

As the great Harry Dean Stanton once said  "I don't want no commies in my car.
And no Christians either! "


  1. Film is not my medium, so I can't read as much into films as you manage, but I noticed the von Trier thing, too. I told my brother that 2017 was when the interesting filmmakers seemed to be switching bodies: Aronofsky did a von Trier film and del Toro did a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film.

    But while the big challenging European directors like von Trier and Gaspar Noe are off doing dark porn, Aronofsky pulls this thing out of his hat. As much as I like him, this is the first film of his I've wanted to see more than once: with the others, it felt like a dark amusement park ride through the psyche but once completed, I never wanted to go on them again.

    Perhaps the most amazing thing about this film, though, was that it resulted in several of my decidedly mainstream ccolleagues sitting around at work talking about the levels the film works on, something I never in a million years thought I'd hear.

  2. One of the greatest films about the creative process I have ever seen. Calm, depression, mania, destruction, rinse, repeat.


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