This September, writer/director Darren Aronofsky lobbed a viceral attack on cinemas, earned a rare audience Cinemascore of ‘F’ and sent a public roped into theaters for a Jennifer Lawrence/Michele Pfeiffer movie stomping for the exits in disgust with Mother! It’s a wonderfully unique and highly debatable film in it’s own right, and Paramount deserves credit for going all in on it; but Mother! isn’t entirely unprecedented. It’s descendants include work from other maverick filmmakers who since the dawn of cinema – from F.W. Murnau’s Faust to the comic-book action social-class metaphor Snowpiercer – have been working around the edges of how far to push a story into pure parable. Finding new ways to visualize microcosms for all of mankind and to tell symbolic stories about the end of the world as we know it. Here is a spoiler-filled look through just 5 movies that Mother! recalls. Fantastic must-see titles where an auteur’s ambition, pretention, self-indulgence, self-loathing, paranoia and viciously satirical cynicism came together to leave their bruising mark on the unsuspecting public.
- The Exterminating Angel – The first movie that sprung into my head during Mother! was aristocratic satirist Luis Brunuel’s 1962 allegory about upper-crust guests who arrive for a dinner party then find themselves simply unable to leave after the servants have. All pretense and decorum collapse and they quickly grow savage in their desperation leading to closet suicides and animal sacrifices much like the collapsing cult in Aronofsky’s model world.
- Weekend – 40 years old this year and still one of the angriest, meanest, nastiest movies on the block. Jean-Luc Godard’s surreal exercise in doing whatever-the-hell he feels like is also a brutal masterpiece that kicks all the support beams out from under a movie’s framework. In it, a selfish French couple take off on a roadtrip to kill a parent who has come into some inheritance and along the way Godard has them drive through the collapse of civilization strewn with dead bodies and mechanical wreckage. It’s a bit episodic, with our antiheroes having chance encounters with a man who claims to be God, pyromania, casual rape, cannibals and guerrilla war fighters. It’s a big anti-capitalist rant from Godard who equates capitalism with greed and greed with a world where life (and sex) has no meaning. But it’s also a fire-breather of a piece of work that must be seen, if only for breaking rules I didn’t know could be broken.
- The Trial – Mother! masterfully recreates dream-logic and so does Orson Welles’ 1962 masterpiece of confusion. A Kafka adaption by a director who was no stranger to pushing the surreal quality of cinematic storytelling, the film tells the story of a man played by Anthony Perkins who is one day arrested and forced to mount a defense against a crime nobody will explain he committed. Perkins walks through hallways and buildings, past groups of zombified prisoners and defendents waiting trial to find his defense attorney as if walking through the legal system itself.
- Antichrist – Willem Dafoe plays He and Charlotte Gainsborough plays She and after the death of their infant child (a slow motion sequence that opens the film), they retreat to the woods and duke it out in graphic guilt-riddled rage. Lars Von Trier’s 2009 graphic, minimalist NC-17 psychological shocker with it’s own religious overtones is about as furious and iconoclastic as it gets. Nature itself is demonic here and man and women must attack each other in the most intimate and deep cut of ways to see who will escape the garden of Eden alive.
- The Wailing – Seemingly more grounded than the rest, Hong-Jin Na’s 2016 South Korean horror film starts out like a wild procedural detective story and unfolds into a far darker story leaning heavily on Christian symbolism and tests of faith that benefits from deep dives and multiple viewings.