“Mother!”: A Millennial’s Movie Review
Pair, Two Pair, Flush, Full House
Mother! is a psychological thriller directed by Darren Aronofsky, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a couple living in a remote countryside house. Lawrence’s unnamed character (we’ll just call her Mother) is working on renovating the house, whereas Bardem plays a poet struggling with writer’s block. When the poet welcomes an unknown couple into their home (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer), the Mother starts to feel uneasy as strange events start occurring, both to her and to the house.
Darren Aronofsky is no stranger to writing and directing films that make an impact, and 2010’s Oscar-winning Black Swan as well as 2000’s Requiem for a Dream certainly turned many heads. Add to that a cast full of Academy Award winners and nominees, as well as what seemingly appears to be a simple home invasion premise, and one could expect a film with stellar performances as well as a third act that could twist in all sorts of directions. Can Mother! find the love befitting its title, or is that extra exclamation point the only thing to shout about?
Mother! can only be described as an incredibly unusual series of events leading up to a startling revelation which will hit some viewers hard, but confuse others significantly. Thematically, it is a film that not everyone will get right off the bat, as I admittedly had to Google the true meaning behind Mother! despite figuring out half of the hidden allegories hidden in the film’s narrative. This means that the film will likely confuse or repel a proportion of the movie-going audience, which might be a worry considering its 30 million-dollar budget. Technically, the film is brilliantly shot to squeeze every ounce of suspense and intensity out of the sequences, giving the film a visceral quality that we’ve come to expect from Aronofsky. Though it has noticeable pacing issues, the idea and effort behind Mother! is a very unique example of a unique filmmaker’s mind, and the result of its thoughts being translated to the big screen.
Home is Where the Heart Is
Without worrying about all the symbolism, what gives Mother! most of its suspense is the way Aronofsky and Director of Photography Matthew Libatique move the camera around consistently. Through tracking shots of the Mother’s head, they achieve that sense of unpredictability where we have no idea what’s going to pop on screen when the Mother swings around a corner or turns around. It’s a common technique in the grammar of cinematography. Only here, it happens a lot. What also lifts the film up is its impeccable sound design, as we are able to hear every creak, footstep and unnerving rumble in the house. The performances are also great all round, with Jennifer Lawrence successfully making us feel just as confused and anxious as the Mother is. Javier Bardem shines equally as the poet, who can switch between being comforting and firm to being completely deluded and odd. It doesn’t take long for us to realise that there is something very ‘off’ about the house, and for people who ultimately don’t catch the film’s intended meaning, there is still just enough strangeness, horror and cinematic structure to be an entertaining film, with fantastic imagery that represents the loss of control and the disastrous effects that can follow.
Father and Sin
Mother! probably epitomises the sort of film that really isn’t for everyone. One could think it is an unprecedented masterpiece, whereas another could call it a confusing mess of a film. It really comes down to (minor spoiler) whether the viewer has a certain degree of knowledge in religion, specifically with regards to the Bible. Most viewers will be able to catch the main gist and allegories presented, but several other references will only become clear on a second viewing, or further research. It’s difficult to explain these references and the commentary it makes without giving away more spoilers, but Aronofsky has said that the film is meant to capture his feelings about what we are doing to the world today. Still, it’s very possible for an unsuspecting viewer to walk into the film, and walk out thinking: “what did I just watch?”.
Mother! has an incredibly fast-paced finale, but the film tends to meander in its first two acts, losing steam through unnecessary scenes, the dialogue in which could easily be inserted elsewhere. The film throws several balls up into the air, but it takes too long for those balls to come back down, as the longer our questions go unanswered, the more bored we get. Things do pick up eventually, but by that time the damage has been done. Despite its thrilling and unexpected third act, the film’s ending is also rather predictable, and the cathartic realisation the production team wanted us to have during the final scene will likely be absent in many viewers.
Mother! is suspenseful, well-shot and mostly well-written. Yet another soild outing for Aronofsky, but not one that will be understood by all. His artistry is especially apparent in the second half of the film, while the first was in some ways rather hollow. The character’s motivations are primal and sensible enough to hold the viewer’s attention, but unless you have some knowledge of the Bible, you won’t completely ‘get it’. Overall the film may end up being divisive, but there’s plenty of good that came out of it, such as the great performances and the immersive, intense viewing experience. For now, all we can do is allow Darren Aronofsky to leave us in suspense yet again as we await his next film endeavour.
Overall Score: 6.9/10