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Unsubtle Propaganda: Reviewing "Mother!" and "The Shape of Water"

While Hollywood has fed America a steady diet of liberal and anti-Christian messages for many decades now, as its stranglehold on the popular imagination lessens, and as the nation becomes more polarized—with half of it becoming more self-consciously anti-Hollywood and seeking out niche alternatives for entertainment—its propaganda has in turn become more aggressive and explicit.

Two almost comically incandescent examples came this past year in the form of Darren Aronofsky's Mother! and Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape of Water. In both of these cases, rather than subtly undermining Christian morality or pushing a liberal vision that does so indirectly, both directly attack traditional Christianity by attempting to reconfigure or appropriate biblical narratives for their own subversive ends.

On the surface, Mother! is a bizarre horror story that feels as if it was inspired by M. Night Shyamalan's later works. The characters in the film appear and behave in extremely unnatural, inhuman ways, and the claustrophobic camera work, as it weaves through the rooms of the single house in which the film is set, is intended to create an unnerving sensation as the sanctuary of the house is progressively despoiled, but ends up just being obnoxious. The terrible acting and inane character work are (I assume) supposed to be explicable here due to the fact that the story is a biblical allegory, with the characters functioning as ciphers for larger concepts. But the allegorical subtext consumes the text of the film, while any sense of character or human drama is set aside in service of the "message" or "idea."

And what an idea it is. The story recapitulates the outline of the biblical narrative of Genesis with a quick jump at the end to the birth and death of Christ, a depiction of the Christian religion, and an explosive eschatological conflagration—with a bonus re-creation. In this telling, however, the father character who represents God (Javier Bardem) is portrayed as 'creating' humans to feed his need to be loved which his wife can't seem to fill, and his perpetual forgiveness of them and their sins (without their ever repenting, tellingly) turns him into a craven, egotistic demiurge.

The mother of the film's title (Jennifer Lawrence), meanwhile, the only character who isn't completely detestable, is a stand-in for the natural world, or perhaps the divine feminine who aligns with nature rather than humanity. As such she is childlike and beautiful, loving and needful of care, and is horrified when sinful humans encroach and take over her space.

The father's solipsistic need for adoration and his eternal forbearance even in the face of total chaotic rebellion is an odd characterization of the Christian God, though, who is complete in himself, in no need of creation or worship from creatures, and who in fact often punishes them harshly to correct and help them. Here the father banishes the disobedient Adam and Eve from his garden but doesn't punish or attempt to correct them at all. You will recall that in reality, God cursed them to toil in labor (physical work and childbearing for man and woman respectively) for their reproof and correction. While the God of the Bible is much concerned with holiness and moral rectitude, this god only wants to be worshiped and sets no standards or expectations of behavior for his human devotees at all. A recipe for disaster, to be sure, but one that doesn't reflect on the true God at all.

Wretched humans and a sentimental, enabling God combine forces to devastate the innocent, pure natural world (i.e. the mother), which needs God's protection from nasty puerile humans, but he in his selfishness refuses to grant. This revisits the environmentalist theme of Aronofsky's previous biblical epic Noah, where it's revealed that man's real original sin was its lack of care for pristine mother earth.

Not content to remain theologically illiterate on the Old Testament alone, Aronofsky also sets his sites on the New. As destructive humans continue to infiltrate God's "house" and destroy it, disturbing the tranquility of the pregnant mother with the allowance of God, she eventually gives birth amidst the chaos to a pure and beautiful son. Having seen the true character of the father and his sickly tolerance of human wickedness (the real God has none, by the way), the mother reasonably attempts to keep her son from getting into the father's hands. He eventually manages to get his hands on the child, however, and offers him up to a seething crowd of lunatic humans to admire, who promptly kill the child in a frenzy. The child's flesh is then ritually offered as "life" which the crowd eats, blasphemously parodying the crucifixion and Eucharist as sadistic acts with no redeeming value. All that remains is the horror of humans destroying God's most pure and innocent creature and turning their deed into a morbid ritual. (In reality, of course, Christ wasn't actually a creature at all but was himself God and offered himself on the Cross for the life of the world.)

The blameless mother, already tortured with grief, is then cursed and beaten by the humans while God is nowhere to be found to protect her. But mother nature will have her vengeance! She eventually makes her way to the heart of the house where a gas furnace is and blows the entire place to hell, cleansing creation of the wicked humans once and for all, but also dying herself. Instead of this bringing some sort of conclusive end, however, she offers up her 'love' to God, who takes it out of her body in the form of a crystal which he uses to re-create the world anew, having seemingly learned nothing and destined to perpetuate the unholy cycle. The Christian mythos (Aronofsky, himself a Jew, may see it as "Judeo-Christian") is thus subsumed into a higher gnostic myth.

Whether Aronofsky intends this to be a commentary on God as he exists or merely on traditional Christianity's understanding of God is ultimately immaterial, seeing as traditional Christianity is true. The extended description of the narrative hopefully makes clear just how blatantly and radically anti-Christian the film—put out by a major film studio with A-list actors—is. It wears its contempt for Christianity on its sleeve and it isn't worried audiences will be offended. As degraded as our culture is, and as pozzed as Hollywood long has been, it was still quite rare for anything that wasn't tucked away at the arthouse to be this brazen and overt up to fairly recently.

Just compare the relative subtlety of 2006's Pan's Labyrinth to 2017's The Shape of Water, both directed by the corpulent Guillermo Del Toro. They share much thematically and stylistically as their respective female protagonists confront a hostile world with whimsy and charm. Both also have straight white male patriarch baddies who represent their respective political orders: falangist Spain and pre-60s America. But despite Del Toro attempting to retroactively bestow it with extreme wokeness, the political edge of Pan's Labyrinth is rather tame and muted (despite the sadistic fascist baddie), while it becomes clownishly overt in The Shape of Water.

It's hard to overstate how absurd the SJW messaging of the film is. It's essentially Tumblr: The Movie. The lead protagonist Elisa is a mute girl, not pretty, whose best male friend is an aging homosexual and whose closest lady friend at her janitorial job at some government facility is a sassy black woman. Lest you think you've ticked every diversity box (racial minorities, handicapped, gay), she later befriends a quasi-human-like beast and a Soviet spy with a heart of gold (!), filling out the roster of 'others' on the fringes.

We also learn early on that our heroine is a regular masturbator and her elderly homosexual friend, in his wisdom, tells us his main regret in life was not, ahem, %^&$ing more when he was younger. You might say, "that's odd, male homosexuals typically do a ton of that—much more than straights." Indeed, but you see this is 1962 when homosexuality was cruelly forced to stay in the closet by the cis white hetero patriarchy. Pity the man's wasted youth without massive amounts of degraded, unnatural fornication, dear viewer. At one point he, misreading a situation, makes a pass at an unsuspecting heterosexual male waiter who is offended and asks him to leave the restaurant. Del Toro, not wanting you to miss how evil the homophobic bastard was, has two black customers enter the restaurant at that exact moment whom he promptly kicks out too.

This parade of sterile outcasts (even Elisa's black friend is in what appears to be a rather loveless and childless marriage—how could it be otherwise with a filthy man involved) is contrasted with Michael Shannon's sadistic, Bible-quoting character who has an idyllic 1950s style suburban family with a wife and two kids. To drive home the contrast, he is shown having awkward (if presumably fertile) missionary-position sex with his wife.

The centrality of sex to the narrative doesn't end there, either. The emotional centerpiece of the film is Elisa falling in love with the river creature and copulating with it. We can add bestiality to the list of peccadilloes for our merry band of outcasts. The beast itself—it is mentioned he is worshiped like a god in the South American jungle he was found in, and he ends up having superpowers—seems to represent a kind of culmination and summation of marginal otherness. Monsters typically represent the unknown chaos on the outskirts ("here be dragons"), and in classic mythology are tamed or defeated by heroes. Fittingly, it is the villains of this film that capture and tame the monster and the heroes that rescue him—nay, rescue and make love to him.

This erotic love with chaotic otherness—manifested in the form of interspecial sex and defiant toward traditional norms and morals—is the power which will defeat the old straight white male vanguards of order and morality who oppress the world. This is literally the message of the film. And, as plainly anti-Christian as the message is, Del Toro is not content to leave it at that. As is par for the Leftist course today, they can't simply oppose Christ (whom they disbelieve in and reject), but must attempt to reappropriate and claim him for themselves somehow.

Early in the film, it is shown that Elisa lives above a movie theater. As she walks out onto the street we see that a biblical film, 'The Story of Ruth,' is playing, and she is given a ticket to it by the theater manager. Various times throughout the movie we see the marquee as well as the inside of the theater playing the film. The Book of Ruth is most well-known for its theme of love, expressed beautifully early on by Ruth toward her mother-in-law when she says:

Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following you; for where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God; where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if even death parts me from you.

This love theme later climaxes in Ruth's marriage to Boaz.

Goethe said of the Book of Ruth that “we have nothing so lovely in the whole range of epic and idyllic poetry.” Quite, which makes Del Toro's gambit to underpin his own story with it all the more foul. What possible relationship could exist between, on the one hand, a profound story about a pious woman from heathen lands being integrated into the people of God and becoming an ancestor of Christ through her love and nobility of soul and, on the other, the proud degenerates of this film is a complete mystery. One suspects it's simply that Del Toro has vulgarized the message of Ruth into a worldly 'love conquers all' featuring a female heroine, and as the audience is presumed to have been appropriately catechized, we should already know that 'love is love.'

That anything this hamhanded and sledgehammer-subtle got a bevy of Oscar nominations and is a contender for best picture is perhaps unsurprising at this late date in the Decline, but our readers should be informed just how quickly the descent is accelerating, even if you (wisely) haven't seen these films. Its breakneck pace shows no signs of slowing down. Brace yourselves.

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