Mother!

Director: Darren Aronofsky.
Screenplay: Darren Aronofsky.
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson, Kristen Wiig, Stephen McHattie, Jovan Adepo.

“You never loved me. You just loved how much I loved you. I gave you everything. You gave it all away”

With the Oscar recognitions surrounding them, you could say that Black Swan and The Wrestler have been Darren Aronofsky’s most commercially successful films. In fact, they operate as great companions pieces that explore very similar themes. It comes as no surprise then that Aronofsky has chosen to follow-up his last film, Noah, by exploring similar themes again and approaching another biblical interpretation. Only this time, he does so from a very personal and contentious angle.

Plot: Living a tranquil, rural lifestyle with her poet husband (Javier Bardem), a young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) begins to feel threatened when the arrival of a mysterious couple (Ed Harris & Michelle Pfeiffer) disrupt her quite country home.

A lot of controversy has surrounded Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! but it’s the directors artistic and ambiguous approach that has alienated a wide margin of audiences. It’s fair to say that Aronofsky is a man with his own vision but few, if any, of his films have been as polarising as this. It received a mixture of both boos and a standing ovation at its Venice Film Festival premiere and has came in for some scathing criticisms while auteurs like Martin Scorsese have came to the film’s defence. Put simply, Mother! isn’t a film for everyone and it’s certainly not the mainstream material that many cinema goers were expecting from a film headlined by Jennifer Lawrence.

Many, myself included, are still grappling with just what in the hell the film is all about. For a while, I was caught up in the disorienting narrative and I didn’t really know where the film was going. I considered theories of a fractured mental state; a pregnant woman’s psychological urge to nest build and how the outside world is suddenly a threat. The nature of celebrity and the challenges of the artistic process also came to mind and in its opening scenes I considered the film to be, simply, a paranoid, haunted-house horror piece much in the same vein as Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. In fact, the first half of the film has a very uneasy atmosphere that permeates every scene and it’s hugely reminiscent of something that Polanski would deliver. However, the second half also brought reminders of the abstract approach associated with David Lynch and the recurring themes that he explores of fractured psyches and characters that are, seemingly, unable to maintain a grip on reality. However, these theories were about as fleeting as a fart in the wind as Aronofsky refuses to be tamed or allow his nightmarish film to be pigeonholed in any conventional sense. That said, once you get the gist that the film is a biblical allegory then all of the symbolism and the motivation of the characters become deceptively simple. Take, if you will, the fact that non of the characters are given names. It’s simply by their actions that we know them. They are representations of Mother Earth (Lawrence), God (Bardem), his creations Adam (Harris) and Eve (Pfieffer) and their sons Cain and Abel (the Gleesons) with the house itself being a representation of Eden. Even one of the film’s most disturbing scenes (which I won’t divulge) is played out like a crucifixion of sorts and is entirely in keeping with the film’s biblical notions.

There are definite shades of Aronofsky’s Black Swan in that our titular character is of a fragile and tormented mental state – even the film’s poster is similar to the fractured porcelain doll of Black Swan‘s poster where the cracks are subtly hinted at. That aside, the biblical angle is probably the interpretation that sits the easiest but there’s still an undoubted ambiguity to the whole affair. And that’s what I love about Mother! I often respond positively to films that are not easily explained; narratives that permeate my psyche, leaving me pondering for days and weeks on end and that’s exactly what Aronofsky delivers here.

There are wonderful performances across the board. It’s always a pleasure to see Ed Harris and it’s fantastic see Michelle Pfeiffer sink her teeth into one of her best roles in years. But it’s important to recognise the performances of the two leads in particular: Lawrence’s besotted and committed nurturer and Bardem’s benevolent and caring creator perfectly portray the themes that Aronofsky is going for here and his compositions and close-up shots of both actors allow them to subtly take command of their roles. In fact, the camerawork in general by Matthew Libatique plays a huge part in this film. His hand-held approach sets the tone and mood; we rarely remain static which perfectly emulates the emotions of our lead character and allows us to experience events from her perspective. Needless to say, it’s unsettling and the disquieting tone is complimented by visual effects supervisor Dan Schrecker, who very impressively manages to convey an environment of a personal and claustrophobic hell.

I suppose you’ll never really know if Mother! is for you unless you take the plunge. I would recommend that you do so with an open mind and while I can completely understand a lot of viewers disliking it I, personally, found it to be riveting and a hugely involving and rich tapestry of phantasmagorical nightmares. It’s abundant with religious and political imagery that are nothing less than striking and the more I think and ponder on it’s theological themes and metaphors, the more I admire it for its ambition and bravery. This is quite a Byzantine piece of work from Aronofsky and, without doubt, one of his strongest and boldest films.

Mark Walker

Trivia: Darren Aronofsky submitted a written statement about the film when it premiered at the Venice Film Festival, in which he revealed that he wrote the first draft of the script in 5 days (“a fever dream,” he called it) and that the idea was inspired by current events, “the endless buzzing of notifications on our smartphones,” and his experiences going through Hurricane Sandy in downtown Manhattan. “It is a mad time to be alive,” he wrote. He also wrote that the film should be “drunk as a single dose in a shot glass. Knock it back.”

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31 Responses to “Mother!”

  1. Really nice review! I have yet to see this movie, but your review has motivated me to give it a try. I was hesitant to watch it after hearing so many terrible reviews upon initial release, but I guess I need to take the plunge!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. It’s not an easy film to recommend as it will be entirely up to each individual viewers interpretation of it (or even their patience with it). As you can see, it worked for me, though. I actually liked it that much that I’m surprised it hasn’t been better received. Whether you like it or not, there’s denying that Aronofsky has done his own thing here.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice review Mark. I was amongst Mother’s few fans as well, although I didn’t like it as much as you. The visuals and performances are excellent, but the biblical metaphor is pretty heavy-handed (Aronofsky is certainly not the world’s most subtle director). Yet despite its flaws, I did really enjoy Mother, I may even see it again over this weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very intetrsting review without any bias. I initially thought to skip the filn too after all those reviews, but now I’m curious

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s such controversy and polarising opinions on this, that I’d recommend it purely based on finding out what side of the fence you’re on. I loved being it when films like this appear and splits audiences right down the middle. I loved it and can’t stop thinking about it.

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  4. Crazy. But I didn’t expect much else. Nice review Mark.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ha! “Should be drunk as a single dose in a shot glass. Knock it back.” What a PERFECT description for this movie. Glad to see you bought into it as well sir. It is a fascinating journey isn’t it? I particularly got a kick out of seeing Kristen Wiig here. Just when you think, “Oh, whats this? A reprieve?!” she goes and does some of the most bizarre shit in the entire movie. This thing is like a college bacchanalia gone wrong X100

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is one out there movie that splits opinion wildly. I fell into a middle category. I thought it was a well made movie and that the acting and ideas where there, but it doubled up the outrageous elements a little too much. A fabulous review Mark, I like when you review these kinds of divisive films.

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  7. Yeah that was just not for me. It was so simplistic – so he decided to make a movie based on the Bible. And? The script was a mess and the two halves of the film didn’t mix well at all. It was very well directed, I’ll give him Aronofsky that, but ultimately I thought it was a forgettable mess

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fair enough, Sati. I can totally understand some not liking it but it worked for me. It was quite simple when you begin to make comparisons but I still thought aranofsky achieved enough ambiguity to keep me hooked. I thought it was great.

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  8. Awesome write-up. I loved this one.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Looking forward to Avengers: Infinity War?

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  10. Didn’t see it but was surprised it was nominated for the razzies.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Great review; it is indeed a complex work. My concluding remarks sum up my thoughts:
    ” Completely unbounded, it can be taken as a weird horror film or read as a meditation on gendered existentialism or an absurdist parody on the saviours that arise in every society throughout history. It is also completely here and now: when Him survives the dystopian chaos that he has created, ask yourself: who does he remind you of?”

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This is a wonderful review that deftly encapsulates why Mother is an enrapturing film. I liked the film to a point and think its an exploration of the pursuit of the artistic life for the sole purpose of nourishing ego and self-worth. You can find out more in my review below:

    https://sgsonfilm.net/2017/10/25/review-mother/

    If you find the piece to your liking, then please comment and follow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Certainly not a film for everyone and the backlash it’s received has proven that but I really responded to what Aronofsky was going for.

      Thanks for dropping by. I’ll do likewise and check out your thoughts. Cheers! 🙂

      Like

  13. […] Certainly not for everyone but I found Darren Aronofsky’s film a riveting and rich tapestry of phantasmagorical nightmares. Abundant with religious and political imagery, this is a bold piece of work that proves that film can be quite a striking medium for artistic ideas and expression. Full review here. […]

    Like

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