The brutal truth about being an artist- review of the movie “Mother!” {incl spoilers}

by LS Harteveld

screen-shot-2017-08-03-at-5-03-12-pmLet me clear something up. When the guy at the box office said:
“This is the worst movie I ve seen all year, but I recommend it to everyone because it brings up so much discussion.”
He wasn’t lying. At least not about the being the worst movie of the year part. But it didn’t bring up any discussion between me and my friend. In fact we were eager to discuss Atomic Blonde.
We had seen Atomic Blonde weeks before, and not only had it changed our lives, we also felt stained from the “Mother!” experience. As if we were afraid our memories of Atomic Blonde would become less bright, if we didn’t relive them quickly.
Fortunately we both seem to have the same urge, so we discussed how this manifesto of female power – which takes place in Berlin 1989 including matching soundtrack and slick black-and-white dressed style icon Charlize Theron – had given us the most inspiring role model since Uma Thurman’s Kill Bill.
The box office guy and his friends had discussed Mother! for three hours, after seeing it. But this was nothing compared to the impact of Atomic Blonde. My friend and me were on our third week of discussing it. We had been a little bumbed out that we had spent money on Mother! But as soon as we realized we had been able to preserve the memory of Atomic Blonde, which will not be released on dvd till December – we were relieved.
Our real treasure was still intact.
A few days later I was on a train. It was late, I was dead tired and I didn’t have the energy to write or to read. Much to my own surprise, I started watching “Mother explained” videos on YouTube. You can do this with every movie, and it gives you reviews from vloggers/channels that have specialized in watching and reviewing films.
I had done the same thing for Atomic Blonde, because the story line is impossible to follow. So now I did the same for Mother! Not because I had not been able to understand the story, but to find out what the director had meant to convey.
Everything, from this point onward, is thanks to the “Mother explained” videos on YouTube. If it hadn’t been for those, the story would have ended with me and my friend erasing the memory of it as quickly and thoroughly as possible.
On the surface Mother is about a young woman totally occupied with the refurbishment of an old mansion, restoring it to its former glory after a fire burned it to the ground. She lives there with her husband, a poet with a writer’s block. He is eventually inspired by a man, who he lets into their house, and from thereon more and more people come in, who behave like a plague. But they admire the poet and he feels very forgiving towards them.
Ultimately their presence destroys their house, and it takes the life of their infant and of his wife.
And then he recreates his world again. He lives in the same house (which he recreated with his mind. Her refurbishment was merely an embellishment) with a similar young woman. And the cycle will repeat itself.
One dialogue at the end captivates the drama that is going on. And I don’t have the script, so I do this by recollection, but it was something like;
“Who are you?” the young woman asks.
“I am me. I create,” the man answers. “That’s what I do.”
And with that you also understand that he also destroys, if only by proxy by inviting all the people in who clearly cannot be trusted around anything you value. Let alone around your wife, and the house that she has symbiotic ties to.
He destroys Life, so that he can rebuild it, recreate it. Whereas she symbolizes a preserving power, for which ultimately creators, artists, have little respect. Or maybe it’s not that they don’t respect is, it’s more that you can’t change the nature of the beast. A creator must create, and for that there must first be a need.
He must destroy.
I am a writer and I am familiar with his need to create. Although aside from this fictional poet, I usually feel little affiliation to other writers. Their art (writing) seems to be optional, as if they have a choice to write or not. I see this in particular if there is a writer’s block.
To me a writer’s block can mean one of two things;
1. You are making yourself write stuff you don’t want to write. And you’re confusing it with Art.
I can imagine that if you are caught up in thinking “What do people want to read?” or if you are under contract from a magazine to publish a certain amount of words about a certain topic, that every writer could suffer from a writer’s block.
But then this work that you’re set out to do here, is not going to be brilliant anyway. So train yourself to please your audience enough to make money with your craft, and be done with it. But don’t confuse this with Art. You re just doing your job.
Just like someone who collects garbage will be more inspired to do so on one day than the other, and yet his audience will be equally pleased and relieved that he came by to do his work.
The same way the audience will like reading your column.
But get over the idea that it needs to be groundbreaking, because it doesn’t. It needs to pay the bills, end of story.
The most interesting reason behind this form of writers block is when you are actually avoiding to do your true work! You know which book, which topic, which scary as fuck thing that you could fail massively at, you are supposed to write. But you make yourself write something else instead.
And then you block.
Be glad you did! It’s a gift from God to prevent you putting time and effort into something that is not your true purpose. Which brings me to number two.
2. Writing is not your art
I am currently making daily yoga videos. Or at least that’s what I am supposed to do. Even right now, Wednesday 27 September 1 pm, I am supposed to be on my yoga mat and do one to two hours of filming. The neighbors and the neighborhood are quiet. The lighting is perfect. Everything is.. Except for one thing: I NEED to write this review of Mother. The insights have developed in my head last night; A sleepless, drama filled night with heart pains, a sick cat, and a ton of resolutions to do better and work less and save my life.
I was going to be like the “Mother!” woman. Nurture my preserving energies, and activities, by prioritizing making slow, mindful, unpretentious yoga videos (I am a yoga teacher). Every day, two hours of breathing and yoga. I knew it would save my life.
But let’s take a different spin.
How about if I would call this a “video block”, okay? And I go around saying to people:
“I have a video block! I know I am supposed to have a great video channel, and be a world famous video yoga teacher, if I would only get around to actually doing it!”
How believable would that be on a scale from zero to one? Minus ten?
No one would believe that because it’s bullshit.
My purpose, my art, that which I cannot NOT do, is writing. The reason I am making myself, or at least trying to make myself, create those videos every day is to get enough relaxation into my life to not die from writing. To get less nights where I think I ll get a heart attack this year.
If you have to squeeze out your writing, the way I have to squeeze out my videos?
Then please let it be about writing being healthy for you. Or that it’s some sort of self-reflection tool that a therapist made you use. Or it’s something you want to do to pay the bills, like I said in 1. Any excuse will satisfy me, except one; you claiming that writing is your passion. Because clearly it’s not. And worst case scenario, you are actually missing out on your real passion because you are trying to be a writer. Maybe you are a different kind of artist (like a vlogger, using a different medium) or – and this would be even better;
you’re a gardener, or an interior decorator, or a real yoga teacher.
Someone with a predominantly preservative energy. Then focus on that. And bless you! Because like I said- I am planning two hours of non-writing non-creating into my day, because creating is eating me alive.
And since last night I know I can’t afford that.
My cat and me were in bed, both in bad shape and not doing too well. And I realized that for years I had been saying:
“I don’t have time for illness or rest. I need to get my books out, and then I ll see what’s left of my life and body.”
And now my books are out, All ten of them.
And I raised the blankets to let my cat Max in or out for the twentieth time that night and I realized that no one was going to be here for him if I die. No one is going to be home at four to six hour intervals to give him canned food, love and cuddles. To clear up his vomit in the middle of the night, and to let him sleep fur-to-skin like mother and baby.
He even wakes me up, before he has to vomit whereas normal cats want solitude if they feel sick.
No one is going to take care of Max the way I do;
Spending every night at home, hiring a baby sitter when I go away for more than half a day, and giving him his daily medicine cocktail which took months to come up with and help from a VET that wasn’t too strikt with the rules and regulations.
Without my love and care Max would have died a long time ago.
How is it possible that I have been so obsessed with my creative work that I thought getting those books out, was what was going to provide meaning to my life? And even worse;
That I was free to die after, apparently leaving Max behind?
On one side I feel blessed my writing is non-negotiable. Not an option. It’s like breathing: even if I wanted to I couldn’t NOT do it. And I intend to stay far from situations where writing is a job, or a choice.
But on the other hand I am motivated, now more than ever, to cultivate the preserving, Mother like energy in me. To give my body its rest, and to most of all keep it alive as long as little Max needs me.
And then, just like in the movie, I am free to let the Mother side of me crash and burn the whole place down. After which the Creator in me will rebuild every particle. Not by choice.
But because it’s who I am.

An Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living

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