Bergman’s ‘Hour of the Wolf,’ Darren Aronofsky’s ‘mother!,’ and the myth of the ‘tortured artist’

Posted on April 2, 2018


Read the full article on Firstpost, here:

In a paper titled Bereavement and Creativity, published in October 2017 in Management Science, economists Kathryn Graddy (Brandeis University) and Carl Lieberman ( Princeton University) studied the effect of a loved one’s death on the creativity of 48 artists, ranging from Edgar Degas, Claude Monet and Picasso to Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. They found that the well-entrenched legend of the “tortured artist” could be a myth. Cézanne was unable to paint for months after the death of his mother. Picasso’s La Gommeuse, painted during his Blue Period, believed to have resulted from a bout of depression following a friend’s suicide, sold for $67.45 million, while Garçon à la Pipe, his Rose Period work (from when he was happy in a new relationship), sold for far more ($104.2 million).

Cinema, however, has persisted with this myth, that artists create their best work when suffering emotional turmoil. (Can you name, off the top of your head, a film about a happy, well-adjusted writer or painter or sculptor? I couldn’t.) One reason is probably that the writhing of the soul makes for better drama. It could also be that filmmakers tend to project their own insecurities and inadequacies on their creations. Consider Johan Borg (Max von Sydow), the protagonist of Hour of the Wolf (1968), which resembles Darren Aronofsky’s  mother! in many ways. (Aronofsky says as much in the clip above, though he keeps calling the film Time of the Wolf.) Both films are about a creator slowly losing his sanity, turning into the archetypal “tortured artist.” Both films begin with an isolated couple – the artist, his loving (and pregnant) wife – whose lives are gradually invaded by “vampires” (metaphorical in Aronofsky’s case, literal in Bergman’s). And so forth.

The difference, though, is that Aronofsky explained what his film meant. In an interview published in The Telegraph, his heroine, Jennifer Lawrence, said, “It depicts the rape and torment of Mother Earth… I represent Mother Earth, Javier [Bardem], whose character is a poet, represents a form of God, a creator; Michelle Pfeiffer is an Eve to Ed Harris’s Adam, there’s Cain and Abel and the setting sometimes resembles the Garden of Eden.” In contrast, see what Bergman’s heroine, Liv Ullman, said in The Search for Sanity (see link above), a featurette about the making of Hour of the Wolf: “[Ingmar] does not want to discuss the script. He does not want to tell you what he meant with it, and whatever. He says, ‘I have written the script,’ and he allows for us to understand whatever we want to understand from the script.”

Continued at the link above.

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