By Trevor Reese, Contributing Writer—
Director Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, “Mother!” centers around a nameless married couple, played by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, who are in the process of rebuilding their gorgeous house in the countryside. Lawrence is hypnotizing as Mother, the movie’s distressed and sympathetic protagonist who simply wishes to continue refurbishing her home and most notably, to be left alone. Bardem’s character, only referred to as “Him” is a frustrated poet coping with writer’s block. Bardem uses his signature booming whisper and enormous screen presence to deliver a memorable supporting role as the irritable artist.
All seems relatively normal on the homestead until unannounced visitors played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer arrive, and the movie begins a descent into the surreal. The beginning unfolds similar to a clear-cut mystery thriller, hinging on the guests’ unknown motives and reluctance to leave. However, as the plot is set in motion, it’s apparent there is more at play and Aronofsky is attempting to do more than entertain.
A fascinating albeit perplexing narrative coupled with densely packed religious symbolism raises a laundry list of questions, but rather than give any answers, the story continues to speed ahead until becoming a hurricane of developments that plunges the film from mysterious into the macabre. Trying to find a sensible interpretation of the story and even the characters themselves is a somewhat rewarding challenge that will have audiences mulling over the movie long after seeing it, which is the most fun they’ll have as the overall experience cannot be called enjoyable.
The film’s greatest weakness is that it clings to its ambiguous and withholding nature throughout, leaving too much unanswered to reach a satisfying conclusion when the credits roll. Though intriguing for a while, it’s hard not become fatigued by the absurd heights the movie reaches while being offered little context for what is on screen. The confusion it generates contributes to the psychological horror side of of the film, despite the movie not being marketed as so.
Did I mention it’s easily the darkest movie I’ve seen all year? Easily. Between the film’s ominous vibes and disturbing displays of barbarism throughout the second act, some moviegoers will find it a challenge to ever revisit, or finish watching at all. A few violent portions of the film are so over-the-top that they detract from the more subtle themes explored in the movie’s first half. Moreover, it’s safe to say the the faint-hearted should not try watching.
The movie certainly succeeds on a technical level, with an organic sound design being one of its best aspects. This is accentuated by a total absence of music other than the occasional swell of ambient noise. The cinematography never strays far from Lawrence’s point of view and gives the audience a sense of spacial awareness when traveling the dark hallways and staircases of the estate. The camerawork also lends a feeling of claustrophobia so much that during some scenes I thought the air was being sucked out of a theater. Although I doubt the technical side of the film is what most people will be discussing.
In conclusion, “Mother!” is an unforgettable film, which is both a blessing and a curse. It’s worth watching at least once for those seeking a radically different experience and repeated viewings will be necessary for viewers determined to decipher the film’s many possible meanings. Lawrence and Bardem deliver striking performances, but all the acting in the world can’t save the movie from devolving into a convoluted and unsatisfying mess that will be remembered mostly for the scale of its brutality.