Having gone into this film with zero knowledge or expectations, I spent the majority of the two-hour run time of “mother!” trying to piece the film’s narrative and thematic values together, for better or worse. The revelations and winding twists of Darren Aronofsky’s latest piece make it a film better experienced fresh, with no prior knowledge of the trip you’re about to take.
In the most simple plot summary I can possibly give, “mother!” follows a young woman (played to a T by the ever-delivering Jennifer Lawrence) rebuilding her husband’s burned house. At the same time, her husband, played by Javier Bardem,, broods over the last remaining piece of his house, a shard of fiery glass, while trying to write his next poetic masterpiece. When a stranger meanders into their lovely pastoral home, Lawrence and Bardem’s blissful isolation takes a dark turn.
Aronofsky goes out of his way to make you uncomfortable with this film.
From the characters’ unnervingly loaded dialogue and mishandlings of normal social situations, the feelings of awkwardness will make you cringe hard. Adding the fact that the film is shot mostly in dizzying close-up and medium close-up compositions, “mother!” very quickly becomes a hard film to watch.
Though I eventually understood the thematic purpose of these creative choices, I can’t quite say they payed off. In particular, the use of mostly close-up shots got annoying fast. Though it sometimes led to good visual payoffs, the film could have benefited from a smaller degree of jarring camera craft. These choices ultimately do fall in tune with the rest of Aronofsky’s vision, and appropriately enough don’t make for a comfortable viewing experience.
Amid all this confusion, Lawrence brilliantly plays a relatable emotional anchor for the audience to latch onto. In more ways than one, Lawrence is a projection of the viewer, and you can’t help but root for her soft, kind character. Major praise should also go to Bardem and the rest of the cast for playing so true to the socially unsettling nature of the material they’ve been written.
Make no mistake, “mother!” is not a horror film or a psychological thriller, but a work of artistic expression.
The first and second acts play together well, and the third act takes the film completely off the rails. I initially thought it went too far following the narrative that had already been set up, but the revelations given in the last fifteen minutes indicate the film was following its own rules all along. Unfortunately, Aronofsky slightly ruins his allegory in the last five or so minutes by beating the audience over the head to make sure they understand it.
“mother!” is a statement, a critique, and it’s executed ingeniously. Often quiet but subtly active, Aronofsky has made a film well worth watching if you’re into the keener edge of film. I know for sure I’m watching it again.
Watch it, some special taste required:
Hector Valverde is a freelance culture reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter