by Max Sirak
(Audio version available. Click here or scroll down)
Last month I told y'all about my five favorite things. "Timing" made my list. Specifically, how much I love it when events seem to fall in spacetime together by chance. For example, this past Friday, I was explaining to a friend the column I was going to write while on the way to see a movie I knew nothing about.
mother! – *spoilers!!*
(If you're planning on seeing the movie and don't want to know anything about it ahead of time – STOP HERE. …But bookmark the link, for later consumption…)
Darren Aronofsky has a new movie in theaters. He's a polarizing director who makes weird, uncomfortable, confusing, symbolic films. Pi, his first movie, was released in 1998. Requiem For A Dream, his year 2000 feature, is possibly the most disturbing thing I've ever seen on a screen.
The only thing I knew about mother! before going to see it came from a text. My friend, Adam, wrote: "Dude – I have no idea what I just watched but you gotta see it."
So I did.
mother! stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem. It's the story of their relationship. The entire movie takes place in a single location, their house, which Lawrence has spent months rebuilding, by hand, following a devastating fire.
Out of nowhere, Ed Harris shows up at their front door. Bardem is instantly taken with him to Lawrence's dismay. Then, Harris' wife, Michelle Pfeifer, shows up the following morning. Next, Harris and Pfieffer's two adult sons arrive. A heated argument erupts over inheritance, fratricide ensues, and still breathing brother runs off.
Throughout all of this, we learn some things about Lawrence. She constantly gives to others at the expense of her own wants and needs. She feels ignored by her husband and doesn't understand the immediate connection he forms with everyone who comes to visit. And, she and the house itself seem to have some sort of special bond.
Then Jennifer Lawrence gets pregnant. All she wants to do is nest in her beautiful home with Bardem, but she can't. Strangers, who her husband keeps welcoming with open arms, just keep coming and coming and coming. What's worse, the more people that show up, the more liberties they begin take with Lawerence's rules and house.
Two kids sneak off to make out in Jen and Javier's bedroom. A couple refuses to stop sitting on a specific counter in the kitchen housing an unbraced sink, despite countless warnings. Eventually the counter collapses and pulls the sink away from the pipes, flooding the house.
Then shit gets crazy. More and more and more people come. They form a cult to worship Bardem, who is far more interested in the happiness of his followers than his wife's. Riots start. War breaks out. All the while Lawrence pleads with her husband to send all these people away. But he won't.
The baby comes. Bardem immediately wants to present his son to the masses. Lawrence refuses. But, eventually she falls asleep. Bardem takes the child to show his followers, who accidentally kill the infant….and then decide to eat him.
At which point, Lawrence wakes up, snaps, and sets the house ablaze murdering everyone.
What mother! Means
mother! is part allegory, part parable. Javier Bardem is God. Jennifer Lawrence is Mother Nature. The house is Earth. Ed Harris is Adam. Michelle Pfieffer is Eve. Their two sons are Cain and Abel. The baby is Jesus. All the random people who keep showing up are us, humanity.
And, the destruction at the end is our fate if we continue to ignore the warnings and wishes of nature.
The movie's about climate change.
(Aronofsky, Lawerence, and Bardem sat down with the New York Times to discuss all this. Here.)
Our changing climate – specifically the terrible marketing of this concept and its consequences – is what I wanted to write about. But in order to so, I needed a better grasp of the subject. So, I tapped a science teacher friend, who's smarter than me, and asked a bunch of questions. Here's what I learned.
Sheets And Blankets
For whatever reasons (I'm not interested in pointing fingers), the composition of our atmosphere is changing. A great way to get a sense of how it's changing and what the effects of this change are is to think about sleeping in summer.
Imagine it's sweltering. You're hot and sticky and it's time for bed. What do you do? You strip down to as little clothing as you're comfortable sleeping in, hop into the sack, and kick away all blankets. You don't want them. They're too heavy and it's too hot. The only cover you can stand is the cool caress of the thinnest of sheets against your skin.
You with me so far? You know the type of night I'm talking about? The ones where even though your sweetheart is next to you, the last thing you want to do is snuggle, because it's too damn hot and you're both already sweating just lying there?
Ok – so, now imagine on a night like this a mischievous friend decides to play a practical joke. They creep, quiet as a mouse, into your room and, as the clock strikes two, throw the heaviest blanket they can find on top of you. What happens?
You become a gross mess.
Instead of the sheet doing its job, breathing and allowing the heat of your body to escape, a blanket comes along and insulates you. Now, no heat absconds. Soon you wake to find yourself marinating in a swampy stew of your own juices.
This is climate change.
The atmosphere, once a sheet made for comfy sleeping and sweet dreams on summer nights, is becoming a death-blanket.
Doing My Best – And Likely Failing – To Explain Some Of The Science
Our atmosphere is made of invisible gases. They surround and protect our planet and everything on it. Because, as it turns out, the sun is super good at its job. A tremendous amount of heat and light (energy) constantly bombard Earth. When functioning properly, our atmosphere is like a sheet allowing the excess heat to hightail it back into space.
But, the composition of the atmosphere is changing. CO2 and methane are becoming more prominent. These are the "greenhouse gases." Instead of allowing excess heat to traipse away, they trap it. Hence the name.
That's not good.
Anytime you increase the amount of total energy in a situation, you get the same results: stuff moves faster.
Think about a time you were nervous or excited. What happened to your rate of speech when you felt this way? Did you talk more slowly and clearly? Or were you rambling a mile a minute?
Think about driving. When a song you like comes on the radio, what happens? Do you slow down as you're belting off-key? Or, when you finally glance down at the speedometer, are you over the limit?
Adding energy makes things go faster. Whether it's nervous energy affecting how we talk or jamming out to a favorite song affecting how we drive, it's the same.
Matter is no different.
Remove enough energy from a liquid and its molecules will slow down until it freezes into a solid. Add more heat to a liquid and its molecules get excited. In their excitement they speed up, start to boil, and eventually evaporate into gas.
So – the less heat escaping into space, the more total energy there is on Earth. The more energy there is, the faster things move. The faster things move, the more dangerous it is when they collide.
Imagine two cars hitting head-on. At 10 miles per hour, the damage is minimal. Maybe some dents. Maybe not. However, if both vehicles are roaring at 70 miles per hour and bash into each other, the damage is much worse.
Now, move this example off the roads and into the skies. This is why weather is more extreme. Air slamming into air is what creates weather. Adding more heat to the equation makes it move faster. And, just like cars on the road do more damage when crashing into each other at higher speeds, so does air. Only, instead mangling plastic and steel, air-on-air violence creates storms.
Why I Wanted To Write About This
Back when I was a kid in late 80s, someone decided on using the term "global warming" to inform the public on the impact of climate change. From a technical standpoint, this phrase made sense. Scientists had been observing data proving our world was getting hotter.
However, there might not be two more atrocious words to pair together to attempt to impart dire consequences. Seriously. "Global warming" is worst case of marketing/branding I've ever seen. Think about the feelings associated with both "global" and "warming"
"Global" is a word we use to describe big things that are far away and complicated. Politics which are "global" involve layers upon layers of complexity and competing interests that no one truly understands. News dubbed "global" features events, thousands of miles away, in places we've sometimes never heard of. Globes themselves are objects. Abstract models of our entire world kept on pedestals for decoration and spinning.
When you think of "warming" what images or feelings come to mind? Afternoon tea on a cold day? Sitting around a fire with family and friends? A hot shower after shoveling snow?
At any point does "warming" evoke feelings of peril? No. It's the opposite. Warmth is something we move toward because we like how it feels. It's comfortable and preferred. Being warm is better than being cold. Warm is an adjective for someone who's caring and nurturing.
Put the two word together and you come away with nothing that says immanent danger. Global is something far away and removed. Warmth is something soothing and pleasant we crave. We may as well have chosen to call this threat to our entire species "puppy kisses" for all the menace it conjures.
Wrap Up (In Our Death-Blanket)
Why didn't they choose a more terrifying term like Earth AIDS or Planet Cancer? At least then people might have been primed to care. It was the 80s. AIDS was the "hot" new public health threat everyone was afraid of. And it's not like anyone was pro-cancer back then either." Global warming" was a horrendous disservice.
That's why I love "timing." I was planning to sit down and write my thoughts on the juxtaposition between the severe hazard of climate change and docile language we use to pussyfoot around it. Then, I serendipitously see a movie made specifically to bring this issue to life in the most visceral, violent, and in-your-face way possible.
Look – Jennifer Lawerence is fragile. We need to respect her. Because if we don't, if we keep pushing, crowding into her house, and eat her baby – She. Will. Kill. Us. All.
And it won't be far away or pleasant.
Puppy – By Klearchos Kapoutsis – Flickr: The Puppy, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14581045
Jennifer Lawerence – By GabboT – mother! 07, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62564831