Darren Aronofsky's controversial psychedelic scarring ritual MOTHER finally visited my psyche and 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, It delivers horrific shocks but it doesn't deliver the kind of slow grinding torture that anyone who knows the horrors of withdrawal, or epilepsy will have a seizure watching. MOTHER seems to be made a long time ago such tricks, before the advent of shock value or Saw sequels. It's a whole new kind of crazy, far more traumatizing (to some, not me) than even sexy Selby would think to go in all his grotty Brooklyn exit naughtiness. Relentless forward momentum pulls this Mother so far forward it becomes backwards again, catapulting Darren Aronofsky into the DW Griffith future. Darren walks the land of the artsy giants of primordial surrealism, providing 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 as scathing of his fans and hangers-on as to make 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, where just telling the tales of the Old Testament, without sugary dozing-in-the-pew piety, leads to scenes far more lurid than any Cecil B. DeMille might devise for his Sign and The Cross and yet totally un-fetishized or sexual and most of all more hostile towards Christians and their Cronus-like cannibal sacraments than mere Old Testament partying.
Who else even comes close to this kind of filmmaking? Who within hundreds of miles? There's Guy Maddin, whose work finds weird new Freudian melting points here and there within his Winnipeg freeform retro-expressionism; David Lynch, although I found his Twin Peaks reboot intensely frustrating for long stretches. No, there is only Lars von Trier's Antichrist and Dogville. And hey, not to start fights after school, but...
Lars, Darren Aronofsky done took you to church,
or rather took you out of it, ducking low to pass unseen between the drowsy Canaanites and sacrificial organist, bidding you come sneak giggling out the back of the crumbling edifice, pamphlets flittering in the breeze of the exit door closing, to ride the see-saw and the horses on the giant coiled spring -
though you are too large for that ride, Lars -
like the sea is too large for its banks,
the global warming shore, the bombstruck breeze that glows no one ill or well.
Look upon this, the Dark Lord's 'perfect' work--tidily summing up His canonical themes thus far--Old Testament mythologizing made literal and messy; self-immolation as the 'perfect' end to a career in the arts--and despair, Lars. Can you top it?
Lars, you've been outmaneuvered on the very tenement balcony of your spiritual sacrificial misanthropy!
Lars, I didn't see your Nymphomaniac, as I'm still recovering from Melancholia.
Lars, it's not that you guys are alone in a race, but you're the only two out this far on the track, no one else is even visible. Lars! Wake! TAKE THE ANTIDEPRESSANTS AS PRESCRIBED, LARS! There's no reason to be all Bergman gloomy anymore. Ingmar's whole film cycle, though brilliant, screams to my clinical mind of the need for Wellbutrin and Effexor. Would we even have a Bergman canon if those drugs existed back then?
Lars, you and Darren Aronofsky are the Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova in the biblical psychosexual allegorical cinematic event.
And now you are behind, Lars, behind.
We've witnessed the rebirth from the safety of heaven's hellish grandstand that is MOTHER.
We now can see the artist as shock-and-awe Old Testament death rattler,
every muse costs a quarter.
Every quarter costs a single limb.
They all grow back like lizard tails in Grandpa's TERRORVISION terrarium.
MOTHER's mix of allegorical pretension, slow-building freak-out panic theater group happening, adherence to the Deleuzian Time-Image principle (we see it all through Mother's eyes, and they are horrified), and a totally gruesome but inevitable conclusion boosted along with strong-as-hell acting, ever-increasing dosed momentum marked by realistic up-close eruptions of furious dangerous violence, leads to one inevitable result: a grueling/exhilarating parable about the savagery that is the human reproductive system once it's run shy of predators and pestilence to thin its ranks. If Mama Jones can't whip up a plague virulent enough to at least halve our numbers, we ourselves become the plague that kills her, as if there's a prize in football for how badly damaged we leave the field, or, on the field's side, how thoroughly its floods and pestilences ravage our villages. Will we have arrived in paradise when we at last give up the need--running counter to all our environmental evidence--to procreate a foot further?
|"Why did I ever make 'em?"|
Chronicling a veritable Old Testament of wrath and vengeance, worthy in some respects even of The Green Pastures, it'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 (not well, one can't create in a house packed with admirers all 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 corpse therein. We're no longer feeling the sexualized (always) brutality of man through abused Selby-penned women, but the frenzied kind of grinding dosed neediness of the unwashed masses, them who rushes the gates in an acid-spurred rush once they learn the they're actually expected to pay to get into the Isle of Wight concert.
Piercing phallically through many layers of subtext, both personal (fame as parasite magnet; perfect artistic creations kill their creator), and sociological (pretentious, biblical, nutty, an uncircumcised logocentric thrust deep into morass of chthonic madness), Mother! digs down so deep into the chthonic it's surely the film to bust Camille Paglia out of her subterranean feminist jail. Darren Aronofsky's love letter to his legions of slavering townie fans--a thank you for soiling his lawn with their disciple-like squatting, tearing up his garden for souvenirs--it functions the way random pieces of saints do, preserved in various shrines: pieces of a body long rent limb-from-limb for souvenirs, the crosses themselves hacked up, each piece made into a holy relic. The pieces with blood stains on them cost a denarius extra! And so a saint's holy power is preserved at the moment of his holiest agony: a little finger joint in Ireland, a shin bone in Palermo, up to and including the smashed neck of one of Hendrix's guitar enshrined in The Hard Rock Cafe. Quoth the creature from Tommy's Froopy Land play, "eat of my flesh that you may survive."
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- what are they hiding?). So hey, if he wants to posit himself as God, I'm all for that. I'm a writer too, and former poet, and can still be a poet if the ratio of flu and Robitussin is just right. 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. Both poet and god are difficult roles to pull off without lapsing into pretentiousness or just seeming faintly absurd--as in all those bad films that try to capture the beat era (On the Road, Kerouac, etc.). Bardem never comes close to either. He is a God and his ability to navigate the mounting chaos without losing his fathomless cool is truly inspiring. I've had a man crush on him since his unforgettable Santeria practitioner in 1997's Perdita Durango (aka Dance with the Devil). He's no stranger to godlike roles (as in No Country for Old Men) and tortured artists. He even made a great James Bond villain. I'm so glad to see he's spending his time so wisely, eschewing the traditional prestige pics in favor of flavors closer to his funky Almodovar roots. (seek out Law of Desire --it'll blow your mind, and anything else you have laying around). And Mother stands with his best, weirdest work yet.
I confess: l have loathed Aronofsky since 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 do 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 Requiem was abusive. I'm easily traumatized but still. I still haven't seen Last House on the Left or Irreversible just because I know they'd leave me disturbed; don't get me started on Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (or Game of Thrones). Not just that part, the rapey part, haunted me in Requiem but 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, so that every anguished tick of the heart clock is like a punishing jolt of electric current and institutional patriarchal malice.
2. Forgiving REQUIEM
But Mother! is a film about forgiving the people who trespass against you, and even posits the whole reason trespassing occurs is for that forgiveness to have resonance. 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 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, you know, my usual schtick.
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, and 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.
When Requiem cam, 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 you'd have to watch Japanese hentai or torture porn just to feel alive. And then you may as well not be, because the anti-porn crusaders turned out to be right, and now we're fucked. Nothing shocking, ever.
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 Viridiana! It's not about addiction, but about what it's like to be sober 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 standing there, appalled. 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. 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 about just wanting to get loaded and party with your posse and your girlfriend is trying to drag you home to the car, restless and anxious, trying to steer you away from the booze and into her tedious arms. "You've had enough!" But the yawning fear is still there, the fear of her chasm of need. "You give and you give and you give," notes the selfish Michelle Pfieffer of her two sons (Caine and Abel, we assume). Al; you Honey, I'm stayin'! I'll be upstairs in a minute, I swear.
Like Saint Joan of Arc, I forgive Darren; Requiem had to follow Selby's text which, like his Last Exit to Brooklyn a decade or so earlier, had to revel in the ugly seams of New York City's (then) vice-ridden fringe shore and offer little hope of escape. I understand. I absolve. It kills me like the Bad Lieutenant putting those two slimy crackheads on that bus with his cigar box of cash. I scream like Harvey in the church at the foot of the lord. I can do no less than die in my car, once I get one.
2. Jonesers Overrun the After-Party (Fame)
(Semi Slow-SPOILERS ahead) - The real show-stopper at work here, what makes the first half with its esoteric bits of symbolism and Lynchian soundscape manipulations so worthwhile, is the evaporation of time in the second half, wherein a single night moves seamlessly from trying to have a quiet night at home (she's serving a very special dinner for two, with candles and courses), to a full scale riot (and onwards from there to even darker extremes) is one of the most terrifying and exhilarating extended 'real time' sequences since Elem Klimov's 1985 film, Come and See. Perfectly capturing the nightmare vibe of an acid test party where what was once a cool quiet evening 'encounter' with a handful of cool loved ones 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, you and me, let's go scam someone else!
Dude, I know those leechers so well from my hippie Syracuse days--and even at some parties (one Halloween rager we threw back in 98 got so out of control I had to just grab some shoes and leave, sans keys, sans wallet, sans everything, and leave with some girl I just met so I could get away from the fracas of my own apartment). Now when I sense a joneser within a half-mile radius my whole body tenses up, like a fox sensing a grubby poacher.
Mother's off-the-cuff savagery is so seamlessly amplified that an ordinary celebration can devolve into a pagan sacrificial rite before you know it, but never in a sudden, noticeable or inorganic burst - one thing builds on the other in a frog-boiling-in-the-slow-pot way that's so ingenious it's paralyzing to think of the amount of timing, work and editing done to get it all so right that it seems to all unfold in one continual burst of madness. Beginning with a quiet celebratory dinner at home in honor of a completed poem, winding up at an impromptu book signing (with Kristin Wiig as the publisher) as one room is traverse to another and then.... I mustn't reveal anything further, but it's quite a night. And the horror of it is, I've been to parties like that, or rather, I've lived it as have we all, the whole history of our presence in 'the house' as 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 party at your house that becomes a full-on Altamont fracas when all you were cleaned up for (jewels and art not hidden behind safer room walls etc) is a small dinner party.
With the cops already called (maybe you even called them, because now strangers are saying to you as you walk back from the yard to see if you can flag a passing cop, "hey man, I'm not sure whose house this is, but might as well steal some of their shit while we're here, right?"), you think you're going to be fine, but you might be the one arrested since you're the first person they run into. Meanwhile, you can't even hide out in your own bedroom because eighteen people are there, fighting over the turntable's next music choice until the whole thing breaks, and you end up having a nervous breakdown for lack of privacy and respect for your shut, all without the madness ever seeming to jump an unnatural beat, so that one thief leads inexorably to a ransacking, one ransacking leads inevitably to a trashing which leads to cops which leads to armies and religious zeal leads to combat and bomb blasts and huddled masses yearning for the holy sacrament and forgiveness... but I can't go on. It's too horrible. It's beyond horrible, but through it all, it's a realization that yes, this is what we are like and where we are, joneser monsters.
|Jesus mobbed by lepers - Jesus Christ Superstar|
|Mother seeks solace from the brushstroke of her whiteness|
But you can still take the only thing worth keeping - the paradise of perfect love-- beyond all duality and judgment--that only forgiving and loving the million claws and clockwork grinding gears
that rend your agonized body / soul to shreds can earn you. Is this what is left then, when all is taken? The only thing that is eternal? Unseen until these impurities are washed away, maybe, this eternal thing is invisible. Only the soapy water that first cleans the feet of the beggars can wash the doors of perception clean.
Ugh, but what a mess for the maid on Monday.
3. Psychedelic Encounters are the New N-- /
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 commonly taken, which is at college parties. It's the worst place to take them. Maybe, if you're very familiar with the effects, or it's late enough at night that most of the townies, trolls and trogs, normies, jonesers, wallies, and murphs have already decamped and you and the cool kids are all that are left, ready to do some real drinking and staring into lava lamps, it might not be too terrible - but more than likely, alcohol and the desire to stay awake drinking more, underwrites this late night resolve. Any big college party, especially one on Friday or Saturday night, has a stretch of 2-5 hours where the great unwashed filter through, the schmucks all desperate to be seen out on a weekend night, to "get" what they feel the night is there to provide them. 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 loud collared shirts behind them. Trying to hide their scared eyes with destructive bravado, but they got no game, no IDs, no confidence (beyond an unrealistic media-instilled sense of entitlement), the best they can do is try and get to the keg before it's all gone, but they don't know how where the cups are, so they just stand around. The girls come in more amorphous packs, but seldom stay long enough for boys to get traction, so it ends up being a dude fest, with you 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 into it, forcing their way into your chambers to get a piece of your glory or booze or acid or a number from your cool platonic female friend roster.
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.
Even more dangerous though, than being skeeved by this ensemble's unshakable presence, is being nice to them, even for a second, thanks to the flush of psychedelic awakening, you lose your discernment and become all Christ-like and forgiving them their trespasses, trying to quickly queer-eye 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.
When that happens you'll be feeling the fallout for years.
You won't remember doing it, as you're also drunk, and later on at the bar some slavering idiot wearing your shirt comes along and is all over you, wanting some of you pitcher, or buying you one if you actually did help make him cool, acting all chummy, and embarrassing you in front of your beautiful people clique. You think this is a game? 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.
Imagine if, for example at your local 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 over to whomever wants to step in and fill the gap. The result? Some scabby hep-C sleazebag peddles ecstasy to your daughter and she thinks he's frickin' Jesus. And mom, who told her how dangerous it was to even try, is laughed away as clearly clueless. How can her daughter trust what she says about coke and heroin, either? The scabby sleaze becomes the authority figure for he's introduced her to 'the truth' - and mom can't handle that she can handle it.
The thing is, though - there are the 'good' psychedelic dealers who provide warning labels, recommended dosage, set and setting, etc. and also to come to the aid of those who wind up wigging out. And it's that 'wigging' that's so succinctly and brilliantly captured in Mother!. I've never seen anything remotely on its level - as far as wigging the righteous way, or showing how the throngs of party crashers seem to be, the monstrous hunger of their appetites tearing your soul apart, when all you want is five minutes of peace in your own room to get your head together. Would there was someone like that to sneak Jennifer out of that party and into a nice quiet air-conditioned space. If only there was just a single brother to drown, like lucky Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven.
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 JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR live on ABC, as that musical and MOTHER share that subtext, the idea that at a certain point, as per Mother Theresa, being selfless and being a victim of gimme-gimme beggar mentality, i.e. 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 crucified like a broke junky twitching sick and wild-eyed in the four in the morning ER for a shot or sip of methadone that may not even come since you don't have insurance. 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.
Of them all, only the caustic already-dead Superstar seems to have it on the ball when, in the song "Everything is All Right", when Judas thinks the money spent on fine ointments for Jesus' sore feet should have sold it and spent on "the poor." - Jesus sing "there will be poor always / pathetically suffering / just think of the good things you've got," - for Jesus, he has no 'responsibility' to the poor just because they glom onto him and keep ravenously wolfing down every scrap of food in sight.
|The beggars Viridiana invites to dinner--as she's so Christian and noble, play dress up with her vestal finery (before stealing or ruining it, and her)|
5. Art is Violence: Forgiveness is Divine in direct proportion to the Unforgiveableness of the Offense
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 the artist. Oliver Stone sued by the victims of a child who rampaged with his girlfriend after watching Natural Born Killers; Kubrick working to pull A Clockwork Orange out of circulation in England after a rapist sings "Singin' in the Rain", Judas Priest 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. 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. For god's sake, thank you for your own advance forgiveness of this horrible devouring shell whose mouth I use to scream, and drink, and lie... and sometimes pray.
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:
GREEN PASTURES (1936)
JESUS OF NAZARETH (1977)
BROTHER SUN, SISTER MOON (1970)
And the Psychedelic Scrooge Satori!
Plus: the entire chronicle of my deliverance (and subsequent carnivore disillustion): Remembering my 2012 Galactic Alignment Euphoria, Non-Duality, Quetzlcoatl Visions, Cult Leadership, and Inevitable Fever
I love you, always.
Long as you're clean, and don't mess up my carpet.
And not a commie.
I don't want no commies in my car.
And no Christians either!