First of all, it was one of the most visceral moviegoing experiences I've ever had, right up there with Mad Max Fury Road, Children of Men, and Natural Born Killers. I thought the personal level and the metaphorical level were intertwined very effectively. Obviously at a certain point the metaphorical level takes the driver's seat completely, and that disengaged me a bit, but the personal level felt real and central all the way up to the last few minutes of the movie for me.
I think it's crucial to the movie's effectiveness that it works entirely on the personal level, and doesn't require the viewer to spot the various metaphorical references for it to be meaningful. I can see somebody finding these references somewhat pat, but I felt again and again that the take on them was being constructed naturally from a basis in human experience rather than clunkily imposed by the author's hand. A huge part of that, for sure, was the excellent cast, including a ton of perfectly delivered bit parts.
So crucial was that the four main parts were so expertly acted. Watching Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem is a joy, and they both managed to be deeply sympathetic and bewilderingly opaque.
The movie felt to me even more about gender and human power than about ecology or religion. my wife Kate and I talk and think a lot about the wildly different expectations of mothers and fathers (see this hilarious McSweeney's piece), and the dynamic between the two principals brought up a ton of feelings and memories about my own parents. I've never seen such a great exploration of the patterns of the stereotypical male focus on being important to strangers, versus the stereotypical female focus on interpersonal relationship. It was breathtaking to see writ large patterns I know privately, like the way self-aggrandizement exists in symbiotic binary with feelings of powerlessness. The relationship between JLaw's mother and JBard's father's writing was fascinating.
There were a few moments that didn't click for me: I took it that the argument between the sons was designed to be stagey and mannered; it echoed the simulated feel of their parents' characters, in a sort of Hal Hartley or David Lynch way. But where the parents' surface artificialness felt compelling to me, the sons did not, and I didn't feel interested when they were on screen. Also, I was thrilled when Kristen Wiig appeared, but it didn't feel like her character had a clear reason for being there (unlike, for example, that first disciple-type guy who kept appearing).
As I told my frield Josh on the way out, I'm not sure there's another director alive who could have pulled that movie off. Maybe Cuaron or Inaritu. It was a phenomenal demonstration of all of the tools and experience Aronofsky has assembled in the 19 years since I saw Pi in the same Manhattan neighborhood. (And it's a reminder of how disappointing it is that other brilliant filmmakers, like Wes Anderson, Woody Allen, Martin Scorcese and the Wachowskis, haven't continued to grow their craft.)
Can't wait to see it again!