Talk about earning the exclamation point in your title! Mother!, the latest from Darren Aronofsky, is all about exclamation points. From its style to its themes to its symbolism to its sound, exclamation points are placed every ten seconds throughout the two hour runtime. There is no subtlety. There is no time to breathe. There is just the exclamation point, and if you are up for those kinds of punctuation choices, Mother! is a visceral fever dream of pure cinema demanding your attention
Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem play an unnamed couple living in a house out in the middle of nowhere in an unnamed place. Lawrence’s character is designing and rebuilding the house after it burned in a fire prior to their relationship, where Bardem’s character resided. He is a poet struggling to put anything down own paper, and she is the loving, duty-bound wife keeping everything in order. One day, a man (Ed Harris) shows up at their door looking for a room to stay in, and Lawrence’s character is not keen on letting a stranger into their home. The next day, the man’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) comes knocking. Then more people start showing up. And more. And more. And more.
I don’t know if this is a point of anxiety for a lot of people, but having someone in my home stresses me out beyond belief. Let alone multiple people. Let alone people I did not invite or know. On that level alone, Mother! was a bit of a nightmare for me. Freaking out for someone sitting on something you don’t want sat on or looking through a kitchen drawer without permission rings all too true for me. And the extreme escalation of this only rattled me in a way that I’m sure made my heart beat irregularly. Aronofsky has always been so great about hyper-focusing his films through one specific point of view, with countless shots being close ups of the protagonist’s face or back of head, and makes Lawrence’s character’s paranoia and anxiety hit you with one of those exclamation points.
Because the movie lunges at you with such blunt power, I think its really easy to think you have it all figured out, yet the amount of ways I’ve seen this movie being interpreted is astounding. From a recontextualization of the biblical creation story to an allegory for climate change to troubles of the creative process to Darren Aronofsky showing why he would be a nightmare to be in a relationship with to many, many more, Mother! tackles a great deal of metaphors, each of them interesting. And if you decide it is only one of those things I listed or something different, you are doing yourself a disservice to preemptively think you’ve figured it all out. I do think it may not dig as deep into those interpretations as it could have, certainly, but I don’t think that discounts the cinematically engaging ways it does delve into its themes.
But, like I said at the top, this is not subtle filmmaking. The house they live in has a literal heartbeat. This is the kind of over the top stuff that in a lesser filmmaker’s hands would seem silly. Mother! rarely feels that way. Sure, it has laughs, mostly from the vampy Michelle Pfeiffer, who can give a side-eye and a passive aggressive put-down with the best of them, but it’s never silly. Aronofsky so successfully puts you in a headspace that when the truly outrageous moments come (and there are plenty), they never feel incongruous to what has come before. Not everyone will find themselves in that headspace, which is totally fine, but getting there is a joy.
Mother! will not be for everyone. Some will think the movie is smart for them. Some will think it’s way too dumb for them. I applaud a major studio like Paramount putting out a movie like this in a time where being divisive and having a specific vision is so frowned upon in Hollywood. I fell right on the same wavelength as the film and rode the crazy roller coaster to the end, both with a big smile on my face and my heart contorting in my chest the whole time. A lot of people like their cosmically ambitious movies with a whisper. Me? Give me an exclamation point!
Categories: New Releases
Nice review. I love cerebral movies, and am glad that Jennifer Lawrence is going out of her comfort zone, but it does sound like this film is going to be too messy. There is a line between artsy self-importance and pretentiousness, and cinematic brilliance and intelligence. You can be too clever and lose it completely. I enjoyed Aronofsky’s The Fountain and Requiem for A Dream, and expect that he will produce something as masterful as these two films.