Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writer: Darren Aronofsky
Cinematographer: Matthew Libatique
Producer: Scott Franklin and Ari Handel
by Jon Cvack
I often say it while writing about most Luis Bunuel’s films, but what I resent most about surrealism is that it relies on subjectivity whenever an explanation is absent or short. I often imagine a conversation with a filmmaker like Jodorowsky - whose The Holy Mountain (1973) I actually enjoyed (El Topo (1970) not so much) - in which I can discuss the hypocrisy of some religious sects and how they’ve been hijacked by moneyed interests and I’m sure he’d agree and we could, but of which the other 40% of that film would likely be utter metaphysical nonsense (more or less confirmed in a book of his I read “The Spiritual Journey of Jodorowsky”; not to mention he has a book entitled Psychomagic: The Transformative Power of Shamanic Psychotherapy). I assume if we were to talk about these metaphysical ideas I’d either have been bend my critical thinking skills to the breaking point, or I’d have to concede that I don’t understand; to which he could then say my ignorance is why I don’t understand. A different argument is the images and scenes are open to any interpretation whatsoever and it’s up the individual experience, but if done well, most traditional narratives could provide the same exact experience without alienating audiences by falling too far into abstraction.
My friend said it best in that either people hated this movie or loved it; most of the former. My friend gave the example of walking into a bathroom afterward and hearing two men taking a piss while one yelled in rage, “What the fuck was that about?”. It’s easy to laugh at, but if you’re not expecting this, hoping for a more traditional Jennifer Lawrence story, I’d understand the frustration. That’s $15 down the drain if you weren’t expecting this going in.
I had heard it had something to do with the environment and watched a YouTube explanation video which I suggest watching below. Essentially, Jennifer Lawrence represents mother-earth, Javier Bardem is Him (God), Ed Harris a man (lower case), and Michelle Pfeiffer is woman (lower case), who have two sons serving as Cain and Abel. The film starts at year zero, in a strange house that’s being renovated, mostly by mother while Him works on his writing. Man then comes, woman follows, they have a kid and one kills the other and people begin pouring in, Him \ writes a poem that gains worldwide approbation. Mother later gets pregnant and more people start to arrive, including armed police guards and the military, until mother has the baby via some type of Jesus figure which is stolen, mangled, and eaten as the body of Christ (again this is from the video), until the house burns and they all die and it starts all over again. That is, we’re destroying the Earth with reckless disregard, and in some Nietzschean sense, doomed to forever repeat the sequence.
I don’t disagree with much from the video; though not hearing the details prior to watching, I have a bit different experience with Him and mother. Aside from the cryptic setting is a strong gender dynamic at play - mother is preparing her house for a family, as while not yet pregnant, clearly preparing herself for birth, while the husband is determined to create his own baby through his work. In this case the mother believes purpose - or even immortality - is produced through a child, the husband believes it’s produced through his work. Yada yada yada as the story progresses and Him finds success, it creates a national uproar. As all artists hope for, the work literally changes the world, causing riots in the street and mass political upheaval. Jennifer Lawrence on The Hollywood Roundtable mentioned Aronofsky's obsession over the reviews (they dated for a bit), reading everything and getting torn up about the spectrum of opinion. I couldn’t help wondering if there was a bit of Aronofsky in Him.* However, I’m not all that sure on how to connect the rest of it; other than some broader claim about man’s inherent desire to achieve immortality through work versus a woman being able to achieve immortality through giving life.
If the environmental interpretation is correct - which seems close enough - I am left wondering what it’s meant to offer. Warnings about the environment are urgent enough to demand grabbing the attention of as many as possible, so then what is the purpose of telling this story this way? I’m left wondering, if like Jodorowsky, Aronofsky requires something so personal that only a few could ever know the true meaning.
*Strange enough PTA would explore a similar tortured artist in Phantom Thread (one of my favorite films of the year)
BELOW: Abstraction explained
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