The Corner


Justice and Mercy, Good and Evil, in Mother!

I was not optimistic about Darren Aronofsky’s new film, Mother! Some of the reviews led me to believe it would be ugly, pretentious, and even revolting, so I had decided to skip it. A fascinating review by Ross Douthat in the forthcoming print issue of National Review made me reconsider, and I’m glad I did. I saw the movie yesterday, and I think it does some genuinely remarkable, and praiseworthy, things.

One: It conveys the fundamentally shocking character of the basic Christian story, a character that has become obscured by centuries of overfamiliarity. The film is a religious allegory in which Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem play different divine principles, or different aspects of God’s nature. Bardem’s character is a God who loves humanity so much that, out of pure amour fou for them, he stands by as they murder his son – and then he forgives them even for that. This is indeed a shocking story, one that’s genuinely hard for many people to understand and accept. A certain prominent religious writer, one of the strongest early believers in the Christian story, even predicted that it would be seen by many as a “stumbling block” and as outright “folly.”

Two: It tells a story of sin through the perspective of God’s justice, not God’s mercy. This is, to the say the least, a counter-cultural perspective these days, and even has a ripped-from-the-headlines quality. Some prominent conservative Catholics are deeply troubled by Pope Francis’s emphasis on God’s mercy over God’s justice. They believe that his approach is a foolish one, because it scants the importance of sin and repentance and appears to offer what they call “cheap grace.” These conservatives are not getting a sympathetic hearing from the pope (who calls them “rigorists,” “Pharisees,” etc.) or from the surrounding secular culture (which — because the conservatives are exercised over sexual sins of which the secular culture approves – dismisses them as rigorists, Pharisees, etc.). But the movie takes the side of Jennifer Lawrence’s character, who comes across as utterly reasonable and commonsensical in her outrage against the horrors perpetrated by humanity. She is shocked and revolted that her husband will allow humanity to kill her son and then forgive them. She does not come across as a moralistic scold or a judgmental priss – the way people who talk about morality, about right and wrong, are usually depicted in popular culture. She is a totally sympathetic figure, and her forgiving husband looks, quite frankly, like a fool.

Three, and this is related: It portrays good and evil in a convincing way. I have read countless op-eds over the years that complain, “Why don’t we ever talk about sin anymore?” That’s balderdash; the fact is, we hardly ever talk about anything else. The problem is, we tend to talk about it from partial and partisan perspectives that end up only creating a stew of relativism. Some people condemn the sins of political correctness and gay sex and kneeling for the national anthem; other people condemn the sins of climate change and homophobia and standing for the national anthem; it all just becomes background noise. Jennifer Lawrence is one of our most appealing performers, and her character in this film is in clear contrast to relativism: She is pure innocence, an utterly persuasive instantiation of the Good against which Evil offends. And the Evil in the film is equally realistic: Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Kristen Wiig are all great, leading a supporting cast in which the headstrong madness of human crime and folly takes a firm and terrifying hold.

Director Aronofsky has confused matters a little by situating the linear story in a framing narrative of a history of cyclical recurrence. He is of course entitled to his own religious views, but I think this was an aesthetic mistake. The linear story at the film’s core is powerful enough, and it accounts for almost all of the movie’s running time. As a lifelong Religion Bore, I thought this movie was very thought-provoking, but it’s not for everyone. The violence is intense and, on one occasion, especially disturbing.

Most Popular

PC Culture

Hate-Crime Hoaxes Reflect America’s Sickness

On January 29, tabloid news site TMZ broke the shocking story that Jussie Smollett, a gay black entertainer and progressive activist, had been viciously attacked in Chicago. Two racist white men had fractured his rib, poured bleach on him, and tied a noose around his neck. As they were leaving, they shouted ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Strange Paradoxes of Our Age

Modern prophets often say one thing and do another. Worse, they often advocate in the abstract as a way of justifying their doing the opposite in the concrete. The result is that contemporary culture abounds with the inexplicable — mostly because modern progressivism makes all sorts of race, class, and ... Read More
PC Culture

Fake Newspeople

This week, the story of the Jussie Smollett hoax gripped the national media. The story, for those who missed it, went something like this: The Empire actor, who is both black and gay, stated that on a freezing January night in Chicago, in the middle of the polar vortex, he went to a local Subway store to buy a ... Read More

White Progressives Are Polarizing America

To understand how far left (and how quickly) the Democratic party has moved, let’s cycle back a very short 20 years. If 1998 Bill Clinton ran in the Democratic primary today, he’d be instantaneously labeled a far-right bigot. His support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Defense of Marriage Act, ... Read More

Ilhan Omar’s Big Lie

In a viral exchange at a congressional hearing last week, the new congresswoman from Minnesota, Ilhan Omar, who is quickly establishing herself as the most reprehensible member of the House Democratic freshman class despite stiff competition, launched into Elliott Abrams. She accused the former Reagan official ... Read More

One Last Grift for Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, the antique Brooklyn socialist who represents Vermont in the Senate, is not quite ready to retire to his lakeside dacha and so once again is running for the presidential nomination of a party to which he does not belong with an agenda about which he cannot be quite entirely ... Read More
PC Culture

Merciless Sympathy

Jussie Smollett’s phony hate-crime story could have been taken apart in 24 hours, except for one thing: Nobody wanted to be the first to call bullsh**. Who will bell the cat? Not the police, and I don’t blame them. Smollett is a vocal critic of President Donald Trump who checks two protected-category ... Read More