Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, mother! (but from here on out Mother! because it’s easier to read), is explainable and compelling to a point, before it splits its audience into those who tolerate it and the haters.
Mother! stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a husband and wife living in a secluded old house, with a spooky basement and creaky sounds. He’s a poet with writer’s block, while she’s a homemaker remodeling the formerly charred building, tidying up and supporting him all along the way. Things are peaceful until an unknown man, played by Ed Harris, arrives, and is invited to stay by Bardem. Soon after, his pushy wife, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, arrives, and the two began to wreak rude havoc, driving Lawrence to frustration as Bardem ignores her concerns and lets the worst houseguests ever intrude more and more.
From there, additional uninvited guests descend on the house, damaging everything Lawrence has painstakingly restored, all while Bardem basks in their attentions. Once she finally convinces him to kick them all out, the two conceive a child and his writer’s block lifts. And that’s as straightforward as the plot gets before things get really strange, with a veritable cult forming at the house and a chaotic, fever dream conclusion.
To detail too much more of what happens would spoil what it is to watch Mother! and create your own takeaway. It is fair to say that this is not a film for everyone, and that the bizarre proceedings will turn off some audiences (the screening I attended literally had people clap and boo at the conclusion).
The marketing is incredibly misleading, from the Rosemary’s Baby inspired poster to the trailers pumping up the scares, leading you into thinking you’re going to watch a psychological horror. In reality, this is an art film trying to say something about the give and take (and take and take and take) between men and women, artist and muse, human and nature. The shocking material is effective for some of these ideas and too much for others. The extremes hurt some of the more biting points about celebrity, such as the moments Bardem dismisses Lawrence’s attentions for those of the ravenous crowd that forms after he publishes his masterpiece.
Lawrence is fantastic as the lost housewife, conveying a softness and weakness that works well as chaos invades her personal space. Some may leap to criticize her lack of assertion with the hordes infiltrating her home, but it fits perfectly with her position as a woman, wife, and mother in a society (restricted to one building as it is) dominated by a male ego. If you were a doubter before, this could be the one to finally convince you that Lawrence is the real deal. The camera is almost perpetually in her face, from chin to forehead, and you can see her subtle shifts from love to concern to fear to resolve. Lawrence goes through a lot physically too, once the insanity starts, and it’s easy to see how she cracked a rib during filming.
Bardem is wonderful as well, playing pretend at loving his much younger wife, but craving the devotion of his fans. He’s never been creepier than when he smiles at her and ignores her concerns all in one move. Harris and Pfieffer are perfect too as the kind of older couple you might meet at a family reunion who will not stop pestering you about your life choices. Pfieffer in particular deserves praise for creating moments of dark humor with her biting questions and comments to Lawrence, imposing on her at every turn.
What you take away from Mother! will depend on many factors, which makes the film effective and frustrating at the same time. Women will assuredly resonate with Lawrence and her used and ultimately abused wife. The way she’s left to clean up messes, play nice and polite to appease her husband and his surprise guests, and deal with the horror of her concerns being waved away as unimportant stings, and that may be the most terrifying part of the movie. Men will hopefully not identify with Bardem’s dismissive husband (and if they do, RUN), but may recognize some of the dynamic of an uneven relationship as it plays out in the extreme.
So, is Mother! a good film? Yes, but a challenging one, with a lot of unusual metaphors that are both intriguing and potentially annoying. But it’s the kind of movie that leaves you talking and thinking, wondering how did Aronofsky get away with this? The answer will depend on you and you alone.
Directed by: Darren Aronofksy
Release Date: September 15, 2017
Run Time: 121 Minutes
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