Director: Darren Aronofsky Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer Year: 2017 Rated: R
I would very much like to start this review off with a disclaimer. mother! is not the film Paramount would have you believe it is. According to their misleading marketing campaign, mother! is a psychological horror film akin to Black Swan (also by Darren Aronofsky) but with Rosemary’s Baby-esque aspirations. That’s not the case here.
What is true is that this is distinctly an Aronofsky film. However, mother! is a beast unto its own. It has its own agenda. More correctly, writer/director Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler) has his own agenda here and that includes discharging unto unknowing moviegoers a fury of theological cynicism towards the current state of the world.
It’s difficult– no, impossible– to fault an artist for expressing himself through his art, especially when that artist is as prolific and talented as Aronofsky and the art in question is as deeply unsettling and singularly unique as mother!
I was compelled by this film (for reasons I’ll get to in a minute) and if you are interested in checking it out then I highly recommend doing so. Just make sure that when you do, it isn’t on the pretense of experiencing anything you’ve seen in the ads.
At the premiere of mother!, writer-director Darren Aronofsky passed out a statement on the conception of his new film. According to the filmmaker, mother! is the product of a fever dream, which is fitting because that’s exactly what it comes across as.
Jennifer Lawrence plays Mother (none of the characters are given actual names). She’s sweet and passive and married to a sulking poet named Him (Javier Bardem), who is a generation older than her. Despite the age gap, she is madly in love with him.
From the onset, their world exhibits sleepy, dreamlike qualities. Their large Victorian fixer-upper sits out in the middle of the countryside with no roads and no driveway. There is no cell or internet service (that’s how they like it) and their closest neighbor is the distant, ever-swaying tree line that completely encompasses their house in all directions (though they occasionally reference nearby structures like a hospital, we never see any).
Despite the couple’s apparent isolation, unexpected guests begin showing up at their doorstep. This is where previously unspoken tensions between husband and wife begin to boil over as Him openly welcomes Man (Ed Harris), a heavy smoker looking for a place to stay. Mother, on the other hand, isn’t too thrilled with the idea of taking in someone they don’t even know.
The two men hit it off gloriously while Mother takes up the mantle of hesitant hostess. The camera follows close behind (often times uncomfortably so) as she staggers from one room to the next, making drinks, preparing the guestroom and cooking meals.
The next day we meet Man’s hard-drinking, motor-mouthed wife, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), who shows up and immediately stars making herself at home– nosing around the house, leaving messes behind, and prying the young Mother with lewd questions. Pfeiffer is slick and slithering in the role and plays it with profound intrigue.
As Him spends more and more time with his guests (Mother prefers to call them “strangers”), he spends less and less time with his wife. Mother’s dream of living a peaceful, quiet life with her husband fades further from reality as more guests arrive and take over (WHAT IS GOING ON?!).
Coincidentally, this is where Aronofsky dials up the weirdness. We get more biblical imagery, including when the two sons of Man and Woman show up to settle a family quarrel. Friends of the stranger’s family randomly start painting Mother’s home. But it doesn’t stop there.
Eventually, the whole house is overrun by a mass of strangers. Sweaty dance parties ensue, riots burst out against the police, and entire wars unfold (we’re talking full-on WWI trench warfare). Many folks are beaten, imprisoned, and some are even murdered.
These are expertly crafted sequences with nice flow. Aronofsky shoots them with a dizzying focus on Lawrence that makes it impossible not to feel her stress and confusion. In turn, Lawrence gives one of her best performances since her Oscar-winning turn in Silver Linings Playbook. Though she doesn’t get much dialogue (outside of yelling at people to stop messing up her house and crying to her husband), she conveys everything with a simple stare or cock of her head.
Bardem gives an otherworldly, flamboyant performance that seems better suited for a stage play than a film. Still, his work never feels disingenuous and I was compelled by the character’s selfish self-indulgence.
mother! ultimately film feels like a bowel movement of bad vibes that Darren Aronofsky just had to get out. As a filmmaker, Aronofsky often works in hyperbole and symbolism and though that gets a bit heavy-handed towards the end, I believe he’s crafted a visually stunning, thought-provoking and timely piece of art that’s one of the most unique films I’ve ever seen.
mother! is surely going to cause some discussion. As such, I want to hear from you. What did you think of this insane film? Did you think it was just a flashy, meaningless film? Let me know in the comments below!