Dissections

In the Absence of God

Cinema is a medium of meditation.  Its essence is relativity, a structure built through the filter of the viewer’s life and values, opening every story to the world of interpretation.  Film holds an abstract mirror up to its subject and allows us to explore the grand narratives of what it is to be human: perception, consciousness, sexuality, death, and ultimately—spirituality.  However, what is it to be spiritual? This is the peculiar nature of Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, as it aims to answer this question through an examination of the divine and the profane, often blurring the two in a paradoxical confluence until the viewer can no longer tell the difference between them.  Often planted firmly under the restrictive nature of religion, spirituality is divorced from its modern conception in First Reformed as we follow Ernst Toller through an exploration of faith, meaning, authenticity.  Ambiguity is the language of the film, and Schrader withholds just enough to skirt around confrontation and the dissonance we find between faith and reason.  As the viewer, we come to see that when a worldview is predicated on a myth for so long, adjusting values to include a sense of veridicality can be a harrowing task.

First Reformed opens a dialogue between faith and reason by filtering the two diametrically opposed values through Ernst Toller’s narration.  As the audience, we receive a look into a conflicted psyche, torn between the doubt of silence and the want for something beyond the physical.  Schrader, like most great artists, uses the medium to parse the unknown, to investigate what makes us human. One of the most fundamental aspects of our nature is the emotion of guilt.  When we have wronged someone or acted in a way that is ostensibly counterintuitive to our constructed morality, we find ourselves experiencing a ping of distress. This leads, for most of us, to a need for absolution.   Schrader explores this need through the conversation between Toller and Michael while introducing us to one of the main themes: are we worthy of salvation?

Michael begins the conversation through an expression of anxiety:  is it wrong to bring a child into this world? Bearing children is a function not many people question.  It is a built into our code. We are meant to grow old and have offspring, but we never consider if a child would want to be born.  The world, with all of its improvements in medicine and technology, still offers little sympathy to its inhabitants. When Michael asks about the moral implications of bringing a child into a hopeless world, however, Toller realizes his question is less about the child itself and more of a way for Michael to confront one of the oldest issues humanity has faced:  the purposeless life. An idle existence is something to fear, as it forces us to address the ephemerality that looms over us all. The dread of a lonely night and the reflection it brings can lead only to stasis and an incongruity between the physical and the spiritual. There is a sense of duality we all experience. We have the feeling of there being a ghost in the machine, a Cartesian theater where the true self processes every experience.  However, when we stare into the abyss of our consciousness, only the darkness stares back. This is the genesis of our anxiety.

During the conversation, Toller continues his examination of the unfulfilled by referencing Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death, a book in which Kierkegaard argues it is not the physical death we should fear, but a spiritual one by means of ignoring our true self.  Much of the Existentialist movement is grounded in the idea of individuality and authenticity. If an individual fails to nurture either one of these values, they open their life to self-deception, hardships, and despair.  As Toller tells Michael that we must not give into anguish, the audience sees him as an unreliable narrator for the first time. As Pastor Jeffers later states, Toller is alway in the Garden, sweating blood and toiling in a perennial darkest hour.  Much like our main character’s pursuit of truth, so must the viewer decipher between what is authentic and what is a desperate attempt to force belief in the unreasonable.

Within this consistent state of affliction, we find a parallel between Michael and Toller.  While their concerns are different in name, they function as synonyms, as both have found concern with the metanarrative on which they have based their lives.  Much like the environmentalism to which Michael subscribes, Toller’s faith has diminishing returns. The comparison to Michael is not wasted on Toller either. As he mentions during the narration, the conversation is much like when Jacob wrestled the angel:  “Every sentence, every question, every response, a mortal struggle. It was exhilarating.” Michael is the doubt, festering below the surface of Toller’s psyche, whispering the possibility of God’s death. He emphasizes this point when he tells Michael the only way to combat despair is through courage. Reasoning, when we cannot know the mind of God, is useless.  Because we cannot predict the future, we have to choose courage over despair, despite the unease of uncertainty. These thoughts of blind faith are almost reflexive in nature for Toller; something he likely heard from the lips of another pastor who advised him to embrace the absurdity of God and all the ambiguity that accompanies His word, rather than rely on the tangible.   However, reflective glance for Toller reveals the truth: there is little comfort in the unknown.

With the introduction of Mary, Schrader offers a secular counterpoint to the spiritual milieu that pervades First Reformed, and as her influence becomes more apparent, Ernst Toller continues to resist the temptation of losing his faith.  Nonetheless, we see his transformation through his journal. Much of what he writes is a wisp of the virtue he wishes he could possess.  Everything in his life is a reminder of his failures, including his position as a spiritual counselor. First Reformed, once a respected sect of the Dutch-Reformed Church, is now little more than a tourist souvenir shop, living in the shadow of its sister location, Abundant Life.  Since his son’s death and subsequent divorce, Toller has lived a life of solitude and reflection. However, much like Michael, he has not embraced a life of authenticity. He has buried himself in the faith and become an ethical impostor, going through the motions and measuring his worth against the expectations of others.  Unfortunately, these are unreachable standards with which Toller’s grief and shame only grows. Schrader demonstrates this in the scene where Toller is offering a group of school children some of the rich history of his church. When speaking of the Underground Railroad, he says the following, “Can you imagine that? In the dark. The air hot, shaking with fear.  The sound of the slave hunters’ horses outside. On their knees, holding each other’s hands, praying for God to save them.” This section of dialogue mirrors Toller’s current state. He has been hypnotized by the abyss, engulfed in the blackness and hoping God will end his suffering. The more he prays, however, the stronger the silence becomes.

A key tenet of existentialism is the belief in the individual.  Free will, in the eyes of this philosophy, is a vital part of humanity.  While the definitions of individuality are manifold, there is a consensus of the consequences we face without an idea of our true self:  through the loss of freedom, we welcome overwrought sensibilities in a senseless world. Jeffers sums the Kierkegaardian view of this nicely when giving his sermon on anxiety.  He states anxiety ails only the wicked, caught in their determination to do things their own way. Kierkegaard speaks of this in The Sickness Unto Death.  The idea of the self is a product of our relations:  do we find ourselves in partnership with the Infinite or the Finite?  If it is the latter, we have accepted the temporal over the everlasting and experience despair through our separation from God.  Juxtaposing the sermon, however, is Mary. While she is representative of the world, there is an unmistakable divinity to her character.  But she suffers from the same sickness as Toller: “I woke up and my heart was pounding and I thought, like, the roof, the ceiling, was just gonna fall in.  So I had to get out…Without warning, this dark curtain just fell. I’m scared of everything…I just can’t stop my thoughts. They go on and repeat and repeat.”

In attempt at mitigation, Toller and Mary inhabit a shared consciousness through meditation.   For a brief moment, Toller finds peace through Mary, transcending the physical beauty of life and embracing the sense of awe that accompanies the realization of our mortality.  Our purpose is found in the brevity of our existence because it is not until a period is placed that a sentence finds full meaning. As he lets go of his dread, he experiences true spirituality for the first time.  He later tells Mary a story of his great grandfather, a pastor from Muskegon, Michigan. In the final moments of his great grandfather’s life, the pastor was to have said he was standing on holy ground. The moment with Mary is a taste of this.  It is a short-lived reprieve, however. Toller lets go of Mary’s hands and finds himself back in the Garden, lost in the rumination of a hellish landscape.

Paul Schrader is masterful in his ability to force the viewer to inhabit Toller’s world.  His minimalist approach encourages the audience to lean into the film with its stagnant camerawork and bleak color palette.  This also allows Schrader to break the rules and highlight important aspects of the film. One of the most interesting examples of this comes in the finale.  In the last few shots, Schrader plays with color saturation and vibrancy. Moments before Toller fills a tumbler with drain cleaner, we see his parsonage void of color, almost to the point where the film feels as if it were shot in black and white. However, when Mary enters, the room is filled with light and warmth.  While the ending is drenched in ambiguity, the key to Toller’s fate lies in how the room is lit and Mary’s mysterious entrance. Because of Jeffers, we know the door to the parsonage has been locked, and there is presumably only one entrance to such a small building. This moment is a vision, the last images of a dying man who sought truth and love all of his life.  The embrace with Mary is Ernst’s holy ground, where he experiences divinity at its fullest, shedding the pseudo-spirituality of Christian mythology and embracing the wonder of Mary’s secular touch. In an unreasonably passionate kiss, the camera swirls around the two in order to parallel the meditation scene and indicate we are witnessing a fantasy. The movie abruptly cuts to a black screen. Toller has faced the abyss.

Through Ernst Toller’s ideological evolution, we see that First Reformed is a study of the self and how easily our identities can be blurred by uncompromising narratives. While it is important to find meaning, losing oneself completely to an ideology stands in opposition to the original desired effect.  We must find a healthy balance between our desire for authenticity and the timidity of accepting that, in the macro view of things, we live meaningless lives.

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Dissections

The Transitional Self: Annihilation and the Illusion of Identity

We have all wondered, at one time or another, about our individuality.  What are the basic components of the self? We all have the feeling of a singular “I,” a certain unnameable essence that separates us from the rest of our friends and family.  One of the earliest philosophical debates in identity is the Theseus Paradox.  Theseus, thought to be the founder of Athens, is included in the pantheon of foundational Greek mythology.  Memorialized for his bravery and leadership, the citizens of Athens preserved his battleship for years. Through natural occurrences, preservation turned from an act of repair to an act of replacement.  Every original piece of that ship eventually rotted and was replaced with new planks. From a philosophical lens, this poses a reasonably tricky question: can we still view the repaired ship as the one that belonged to Theseus?  If not, at what point during the repairs did the ship cease to be the same vessel?

These questions are the heart of Alex Garland’s science fiction adaptation Annihilation.  Much like Theseus’ ship, none of us remain the same person throughout life, both in a physical and mental sense.  We all fall prey to biology and its curses. As we age, we find hair greys and thins, skin wrinkles and loses much of its elasticity, even soundness of mind comes into question with each year.  So how do we reconcile these changes with our sense of self? How do we continue to have planks removed and still see the same person? It is through progressive change and the illusion of free will that our singular narrative goes undisrupted.  Garland examines the substructure of identity through a journey of Lena’s psyche, leading the viewer into the depths of her consciousness where Lena is confronted with the absence of a sole identity.

The subtextual narrative of Annihilation acts as a catalyst for an important conversation about what is to be human.  While there are interesting takes on cancer and relationships, the true heart of the film lies in a simple question:  what is identity? This is a hard concept to define because there are so many facets as to what makes an individual feel an “I.”  However, Garland provides the viewer with a great example through Lena. The film’s journey is one familiar to all of us. Over our lifetime, we change.  Little by little, we develop new taste in music, food, and cinema. We are instilled with the ethical values of our parents, though these can be altered through other meaningful relationships and ideas. It is through these incremental changes that we  still accept the narrative of our lives. This is the idea behind the Shimmer and its peculiar attributes, like the refraction of DNA and memories. The Shimmer is paradoxical in nature: there is an eerie otherness to everything that resides under the dome, but a familiarity lies at the bottom of the mystery.  As Lena points out in the discovery of the multi-colored flowers and vines, they all look so different that one would not believe they are from the same plant, let alone the same species. They are caught in a continuous mutation, much like Lena’s identity.

With occasional flashes of the past, the audience is introduced to a version of Lena that, like the flowers, doesn’t seem to belong to the same consciousness. Through infidelity, Lena begins a self-examination into her own misjudgment of character. The Shimmer and expedition team are a perfect vehicle for Garland to magnify Lena’s introspection.  In this sense, the crew are the many faces of Lena’s consciousness: Anya is addiction to impulse, uncontrollable and incessant. Josie is the softer side of this, wanting nothing more than the chance to feel alive, even if that means a path leading to self-destruction. Cassie is sorrow, a physical representation of Lena mourning who she was before the affair.  And Ventress is the cold, detached examination of Lena’s value judgments and moral identity, serving almost as an underdeveloped conscience.

The Shimmer, in turn, is a metaphorical device for Lena’s psyche.  Her journey to the Lighthouse is one of pursuit: it is a way for Lena to kill her attachment to identity and embrace the idea she is only a passenger to uncontrollable desires, regardless of whether those actions are high-minded or not.  Subsequently, it is through one of the most unnerving and beautiful scenes of the film that Lena faces a facsimile of her current persona. Lena’s confrontation with the being is almost like a ballet, choreographed in a bizarre echo of her insecurities. The duplicate is a surrogate for all of Lena’s doubts and shortcomings;  it is a manifestation of the faults she wishes to discard but have ultimately left her with little more than a suffocating sense of regret. Throughout the film, a tattoo emerges on Lena’s arm, which foreshadows this final confrontation.

The ouroboros is an old symbol for the infinite recurrence of life.  It is depicted through a serpent eating its own tail and is meant to represent the perpetual state of creation and destruction.  Joseph Campbell spoke well to this point in the Power of Myth: “There is a sense of death as not death somehow; that death is required for new, fresh life and so on. And the individual isn’t quite an individual.  He is a member of the plant.” Lena realizes much of her identity is a culmination of uncontrollable desires which arise through hidden biological proclivities and external factors.  She must let go of her guilt by burning her memories down to create something new.

Garland realizes that an integral part of our identity is found in memory.  Looking back at the original question of Theseus’ Paradox, we have to consider that our self is much more than a corporeal idea.  Much like the ship, we can replace limbs, sinew, and bone; we can lose hair, eyes, speech, and hearing, but the moment the mind begins to slip, we effectively lose ourselves.  Memories provide context to our narrative. They are the glue that binds our story from birth to death. This is a significant point in Annihilation as it is brought to our attention by Ventress: “We are disintegrating!  Our bodies as fast as our minds. Can’t you feel it? It’s like the onset of dementia.  If I don’t reach the lighthouse soon, the person that started this journey won’t be the person that ends it. I want to be the one that ends it.”  

If we dissect this quote under the assumption that Ventress is a branch of Lena’s subconscious, we realize the words are weighted.  Lena’s head lies heavy with the burden of indiscretion. The journey, as mentioned previously, is something of a redemptive tale in the sense that Lena is trying to reconcile a psychic disconnection between who she thought she was and who she has become.  However, like with any journey of significant growth, she must confront her painful past.

One of the most interesting aspects of the film is how the Shimmer is an external representation of Lena’s mind.  Garland accomplishes this through echoes of Lena’s memories. Late in the story, the crew sets up camp in an abandoned building that mirrors Lena’s home. However, like most of the environment in Annihilation, the aesthetic aspects have a preternatural value.  Whereas the earlier scenes within her home offer warmth to parallel her relationship with Kane, the echo is meant to be a counterpoint–it is cold, unforgiving, and eerie.   This is an important distinction when we examine the conflict with the bear.

The bear is one of the most interesting monster designs I have encountered in film.  It is a grim confluence of man and beast. While his structure is mostly that of a bear, he is accented with human remains:  a skull protrudes from the left side of his face like a macabre blister. He is Lena’s projection of Kane. Much like the ouroboros, Garland hides the significance of the bear in plain sight, tattooed on Kane’s body.  

There are two flashbacks that give more context to Lena’s idea of Kane.  The first is a moment where the two are lying in bed, engaging in playful banter about his upcoming departure.  The second encounter, however, serves as a contrapuntal scene, contrasting the closeness the audience felt before.  Much like the imitation of their home in the Shimmer, Kane is passionless and stiff. He has discovered Lena’s infidelity and rather than facing  his misplaced trust, he chooses to bury his grief, never fully addressing his anger. Her encounter with the bear, in this sense, is an unfilled wish.  Kane’s decision to enter the Shimmer was one born out of passive-aggression, which robbed Lena of a resolution and left her in a perennial state of contrition.  

Annihilation is ultimately a film about transition.  It is an exploration into a unique meta-narrative where identity itself is brought into question.  Garland, moreover, defies the idea of a singular self by challenging our presuppositions regarding free will and consciousness.  While most of us see our identity as axiomatic, the idea of a definitive “I” is nothing but an illusion. Sure, we can still maintain unique characteristics that separate us from others, but we can no longer claim to be the genesis of our personality.  Much like the Shimmer’s interpretation of refraction, we are an amalgamation of our biology and environment. When it comes to our psyche, we have a certain degree of volatility, which remains hidden from our narrative due to gradual change. However, through deep introspection, the illusion can snap and leave us, like Lena, with a new perspective.

 

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Reviews

Review: The Little Hours

Loosely based on one of the tales in Giovanni Boccaccio’s collection of novellas The Decameron, Jeff Baena, most well known for Life After Beth and I Heart Huckabees, juxtaposes medieval sensibilities with modern sexuality and humor.  What could have easily been an exercise of brainless obscenity has been fleshed out into a fully-realized ensemble comedy.  

The Little Hours is the story of three nuns: Alessandra (Alison Brie), Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza), and Ginerva (Kate Micucci).  With little more to do than a few chores around the convent, the nuns have developed a fondness for the profane.  This is evident within the first few moments of the film when the abbey repairmen greets Fernanda and Generva, only to be met with an unexpected string of imprecations.  Tired of the abusive sisters, the repairman quits, leaving Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly) in the difficult position of finding someone new. Luckily for the Father, a handsome and virile servant named Massetto (Dave Franco) is on the run after sleeping with his master’s (Nick Offerman) and is in need of hiding. Massetto is the introduction of temptation into the nunnery, as the sisters’ boredom soon turns into a comedic sexual awakening.  

The script for The Little Hours is quick, witty, and full of absurd situations that marry the mundane medieval life with the bluntness of modernity.  While the entire cast provides fantastic delivery, no one does this better than Aubrey Plaza. Her character is not much different than the others she has played in past projects; nonetheless, there is something bewitching in her performance.  This might be due to her husband, Jeff Baena, knowing how to write lines perfectly for Plaza and play to her impassive strengths.

What could have easily been a 10 minute SNL sketch that bats at low-hanging fruit has been elevated to a fully realized sex farce.  While the film does have its faults (particularly Generva’s story arc), Baena and crew do a wonderful job of finding balance between dry wit and surreal humor that is reminiscent of Monty Python. 

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Reviews

Review: Spider-Man and the Marvel Machine

Before beginning the review, I must offer a confession:  I am not an admirer of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Seeing as I have yet to watch an enjoyable superhero movie, I’m on the opposite end of the movie-going spectrum.  However, I did my best to drop all comic-based preconceptions and give Spider-Man: Homecoming an unbiased watch.  Well, now that I’ve unburdened myself, let’s get to the review.

Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming  is the third reboot of the Marvel franchise within the last 15 years.  One of the benefits of this is the audience’s familiarity with Peter Parker’s story.  Because we know the origin of Spider-Man, Watts can bypass the beginnings and immerse the audience in Parker’s complicated life and exploration of identity.  

Drawing inspiration heavily from the classic coming-of-age films of John Hughes, Homecoming is more than the average action movie.  While Watts did a great job of capturing the warm-hearted adolescent innocence for which Hughes was famous, the homage was heavy-handed at times.  One example of this is the recreation of a famous scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.   In Hughes’ film, the title character ends the movie with race home, rushing through backyards in hopes hopes of hiding his truancy.  The Spider-Man sequence has Peter Parker mirroring the actions of Ferris Bueller, but instead of trusting the audience to understand the reference, director ends the scene with a short clip of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off playing on a television in the background.  While I appreciate a film that understands its influences, the nod was as clumsy and awkward as its protagonist.   

For the most part, the plot of the film does not deviate much from the hero standard.  However, the bare-bones narrative of the Spider-Man series has enough intrinsic value to build an interesting story.  In Homecoming, we find a young Peter Parker trying to balance the normalities of a teenage life with the divergence of his alter ego.  This, in itself, should present interesting questions regarding individuality and what it is to develop a sense of self. Unfortunately, this is one of the biggest issues for the movie.  For most of modern cinema, a thinking-man’s blockbuster has been a rare occurrence. Action films have been a staple in escapist art, guaranteeing the viewer a 90-minute distraction from the unpleasant reality of existence.  Lately, though, the MCU has aimed its sights higher than previous installments. While the action is unabated, recent films have given way to the exploration of existentialist concepts. It is through a pursuit of breaking the two-dimensional narratives of the past that I find Watts’ film to be the most enjoyable.  

With this being said, Homecoming is still an action film at heart, which diminishes the effect of the film’s inherent dichotomy.  Rather than examine the dualistic struggle of Parker’s adolescence, the story suppresses anything more than a superficial glance.  It is frustrating to see a movie make an intelligent point without expanding the premise to its logical conclusion. My hope is Marvel will continue to explore abstract themes and find a compromise between action and human reflection.

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Dissections

Mother and the Eternal Return

How is man to live in this irrational world?  It’s one of the foundational philosophical questions that every person asks, yet its ubiquity does not undermine the importance behind the inquiry: the exploration of man’s concept of himself and his place in the universe.  When we look to the cosmos, we find it is indifferent to our existence, and it is in this indifference that discord between the meaningless of being and our natural search for purpose clash. As Albert Camus noted, “Absurdity arises out of our attempts to make sense of a senseless world.”  Heavy with biblical allegories and overt critiques on humanity’s planetary abuse, Darren Aronofsky’s metaphorical thriller mother! (2017) is layered with existential inquiries.  Moreover, the film’s most interesting point comes when we focus on Javier Bardem’s portrayal of God.  Rather than playing to the normal divine elements, such as perfection and omniscience, mother!  takes an unconventional approach by granting God a human appetite, one that is undergirded by a longing for purpose.

The film begins with the ending of another story.  We see a woman immersed in flames; her body lay beaten and bloody.  The camera cuts to fire-damaged walls being wiped clean through divine intervention.  The universe is resetting. This is a visual introduction to the idea of Eternal Recurrence, an essential theme in the world of mother!   Eternal Recurrence has genesis in the idea energy never ceases. All of the joy, all of the heartbreak and mistakes, all of the accomplishments—even the little things, like the time taken to read this essay—will return to us in the exact way experienced before.  To put simply, once a life has been set in motion, existence recurs in a self-similar form for all eternity. The life you experience now will be lived an innumerable amount of times. As the plot of mother! unfolds, the audience realizes every action set in motion is the product of God’s will, which through the mythology of the Abrahamic religions has been portrayed consistently as unchanging and perfect.  The apologetic narrative is God has a plan. Nevertheless, Aronofsky challenges our theological presuppositions by playing with imperfection.

In the film, he tasks God as a writer who finds himself at a creative impasse. The repetition of life has weakened his creativity.  Because of this, we learn God creates each of his partners out of a need for intellectual and emotional stimulation, the foundations of ingenuity.  Nonetheless, what God once thought was an incredible talent for creation has, through many failed attempts, been revealed as nothing more than resignation to the fatalistic rhythm of life. Each decision in mother! digs God deeper into an existentialist trench and undoubtedly adds to the beginning of the next cycle of destruction, a narrative that is all too human.

Upon my first viewing of the film, the parallels to the fate of Sisyphus were hard to ignore.  According to Greek mythology, Sisyphus, the King of Corinth, was condemned to an eternity of hard labor and unending frustration.  During his life, Sisyphus was known for his wit, and according to various stories, he cheated death on multiple accounts by tricking the gods. Arrogance was the ultimate sin for Sisyphus, as he thought himself more clever than Zeus.  For this, Zeus designed a punishment to match the hubris of Sisyphus: endlessly pushing a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll down once he had reached the top. The French philosopher Albert Camus argued the maddening nature behind the myth of Sisyphus is the ideal illustration of the human condition.  Part of humanity is a want for inherent value—we need life to have meaning. And when meaning cannot be found, we experience what Camus calls the Absurd. In this context, the Absurd does not appeal to the illogical, but rather to the friction encountered when our search for meaning is met by a meaningless universe. Camus and other existentialists state there are three ways of dealing with the Absurd:  Suicide, religion (or other transcendent beliefs), or acceptance. Camus argues it is in the last option we find true freedom. Through the acceptance of complete mundanity, we find purpose in the unremarkable.  As Camus noted, “What counts is not the best living but the most living.”

This is the cycle of acceptance on which mother! is predicated.  Even with infinite power and being outside the constraints of time, God finds himself burdened by loneliness.  Because of this, he invests everything into his creations, not for an exercise in enlightenment but in hopes that someone will recognize his greatness.  He thrives on praise. This is evident during the final scene between God and Mother. When she confronts his insatiable pursuit of recognition, God responds by saying, “It’s not your fault. Nothing is ever enough.  I couldn’t create if it was, and I have to. That’s what I do. That’s what I am. And now I must try it all again.” This is a pivotal moment because it allows a peek behind the motivational curtain of God’s actions.  Up until this point, we have seen nothing but frustration as he loses control of his creations. God, from our limited knowledge of his nature in the beginning of the film, is a generous man. Contrarily, our initial impression of divine compassion is tainted by the selfishness displayed after the publishing of his book.  

However, it is in this final moment before the next reset that God experiences Amor Fati, the idea that all of the events in one’s life—including the suffering—is a necessary good. He is Sisyphus in this moment.  Knowing his freedom of will extends only so far and he has no way to change his fate, God is overwhelmed with a sense of contentment. Much like the conclusion Camus arrived at with Sisyphus, we have to imagine God is happy. He has embraced the Absurd through his acknowledgement of a fruitless life.  And while this resolution may sound bleak, acceptance is the only way to break free of the Absurd.

Mother! presents the viewer with the idea of eternal, unchanging life.  Through the pursuit of science, we know this metaphysical proposition is unlikely.  Rather than a continual loop, life is in a state of flux. It’s a condition of variability, most of which is out of our control.  Much like Aronofsky’s characterization of God, we spend most of our time alive with the thought that our existence is something exceptional.  However, the reality is much less grand: we are a happy accident. This is the paradox on which life is based. Because of this, we have to create our own meaning and be brave enough to live with the consequences of those actions, whatever they might be.

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