How does one discuss Darren Aronofsky’s mother! without spoiling the dizzying experience that is so crucial to the film? This is the problem I faced recently when trying to share my thoughts on the film with someone who had not seen it. I had to gingerly choose my words as if I was walking over hot coals.
This is a part of the reason why the film is both thrilling and infuriating depending on one’s perspective. It is a film that reveals itself in different ways to different eyes, ultimately earning its divisive labeling that critics and audiences have branded it to be.
On one level, it is an exploration of artistic creation and the pains that come with it. Javier Bardem plays a famed poet who is suffering from an almost maddening case of writer’s block. Living in an isolated house, which his wife (Jennifer Lawrence) is renovating, his quest for inspiration seems to take a positive turn when a strange man (Ed Harris), and eventually his partner (Michelle Pfeiffer), arrive at his door. While Bardem’s poet seems to embrace these new visitors, Lawrence’s character, the titular Mother, is uneasy about these new guest as strange things begin occurring.
If taking the film at face value, then mother! is a horror film that builds its suspense slowly before going off the rails in the last act. However, this does not take into account the supernatural act that the film opens with.
Those approaching the film using a biblical lens will find the film more fulfilling. It is when the sons (Brian Gleeson and Domhnall Gleeson) of the houseguests, who have clearly overstayed their welcome in Mother’s eyes, arrive that the brilliance of the film begins to reveal its. Capturing elements of the Old Testament, and the turbulent history of civilization, in one frantic and unsettling setting, Aronofsky’s film has plenty to say about everything from the environment to social injustice to celebrity worship.
Frequently keeping the camera tight on Jennifer Lawrence’s face, as she tries to make sense of what is unfolding in front of her eyes, Aronofsky creates a claustrophobic atmosphere. One that sets up the well-crafted insanity of the last act. It also allows him to hold up a mirror to our society, revealing every despicable flaw that we possess.
Is mother! a perfect film? No. It often feels the need to spell out it allegory rather than let it subtly sink in. Yet its messiness is what makes it great. The film does not just swing for the fences, it rips the fence down. Aronofsky plays with form and our notions of creativity and morality in a way that leaves the audience in deep thought. Lawrence’s performance, only matched by the calculating turn of Michelle Pfeiffer, helps to both conceal the film’s initial intentions, and effectively force the viewer to reflect on their own role in the horrors on display.
mother! is a challenging film that rightfully evoke praise from some, and jeers from others. I land on the side of the former as I cannot wait to see it again.