Review by Paul Preston
Know a few things about mother! before going in:
– Director Darren Aronofsky is a singularly original director who loves taking risks and following through on his vision.
– Aronofsky films from Black Swan to Requiem For a Dream are metaphor-heavy.
None of his movies are as thick with metaphor as Aronofsky’s latest, mother!, which, from the first frames, smack of nothing realistic. But from those first frames, what is actually happening? That question took the whole movie and a long discussion afterwards to answer.
Some of mother!’s opening shots include a woman’s fiery face (literally) as she stares into camera, Javier Bardem holding an otherworldly jewel as he sets it carefully (lovingly?) in a cradle and various shots of a house transforming back into itself after a fire. Get comfortable, you won’t know what any of this means for a while. As far as plot goes, mother! involves Bardem’s author character holed up in his country home in the middle of nowhere with his younger wife (Jennifer Lawrence). Two houseguests show up and things begin to become increasingly uncomfortable for Lawrence as the guests overextend their stay and create chaos in the house that she has trouble dealing with. Trouble to the extent of intense mental anguish. All this leads to an ending you couldn’t have predicted in a hundred years with all hell breaking loose.
To say any more, as you can imagine, would be a spoiler. However, there are two schools of thought on how to enjoy mother!. Aronofsky has said you should go in cold and take the meaning you can or care to from his work. Lawrence, however, has been quoted as saying you should know Aronofsky’s intent, that way you can see the intricacies he employed to get it across. I can say I had no problem seeing it with no lead-up, it made the talk about it all the more interesting and putting the pieces together afterwards was more enjoyable than having everything spoon-fed to me in a dumb-ass entertainment like The Fate of the Furious.
I was the most intrigued about this movie after I saw a trailer claiming that this movie would “mess you up for life”. I was so in love with that claim I couldn’t wait to see it. However, this ended up being the marketing team engaging in hyperbole to make sure you saw this film. They knew it was a hard sell, but they had a big name and wanted to ensure you saw it. There are shocking and brutal scenes in mother!, but they all serve a higher storytelling purpose as opposed to a hack horror film, which this is not (more bad marketing). Cannibal Holocaust. That will mess you up for life.
In the middle of all this carefully orchestrated bedlam is Jennifer Lawrence, who wisely keeps ending up in projects like this to balance out her Hunger Games and X-Men appearances. It’s a good thing Lawrence is impossibly beautiful because at least half the movie she’s in close-up, her near-perfect skin contributing to the allegory. But she’s also up for the intensity of the moments her character must confront. She plays helpless and desperate well without seeming like all-victim you’d get tired of watching, even as her cerebral and physical torture goes on and on. Bardem’s predictably good and I was thrilled to see two of my life-long favorite actors, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, in supporting roles. Pfeiffer is especially prying as the intrusive houseguest.
Amongst all the noise of this year’s movies, part of what’s being reported as a horrible period at the box office, there are small films taking big gambles. mother! and David Lowery’s A Ghost Story are giving you something new for the love of god. Get behind that!
In the end, this is going to be one that’s debated a lot. There are going to be many people who say they didn’t get it. I didn’t get it, but as I started to piece it all together after the fact, I got more and more impressed. This is a challenging movie that you’re allowed not to like, but there are so many daring, risky choices in this film, you can’t just dismiss it. That’s unfair and says more about you as a viewer than it does about the film. Making the audience think is rare, I encourage you to take part in that by going to see mother!.
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Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Release Date: September 15, 2017
Run Time: 121 Minutes
Distributor: Paramount Pictures