An incredibly traumatising and dark dive into multiple facets of human nature.
She is a resourceful wife set about rebuilding her husband’s old house after it was devastated in a fire. The house holds significance with him, a muse to his poetic and creative writing that he has had much success with. But while she answers his every need in attempt to rekindle his inspiration, people start to arrive at the house unprovoked, and while she is cautious at their new visitors, her husband welcomes them with open arms.
The only thing more frustrating about mother! besides its punctuation and its lower case “M” is its marketing. Once again we have a film that cannot be easily quantified (director Darren Aronofsky tends to do that often!) getting shoehorned into a genre it does not necessarily fit: horror. On top of that, it is being widely advertised.
mother! is not a horror film. mother! is a troubling supernatural, psychological drama, the likes of which I have rarely seen. If you are expecting jump scares and more importantly… a screenplay that holds the audience’s hand… you will be massively out-of-touch with the film’s intentions.
Now, mother! probably benefits not having spoilers, so consider this a spoiler warning. Long and short of it: mother! is a gruelling, unpleasant and knife-edged drama with disturbing imagery and themes that are so multiple that it gradually turns into a dizzying vortex of human awfulness. Yes, if you are of the faint of heart, you might steer clear. I enjoyed it, as much as one can, but felt very isolated and upset afterwards.
The film is set entirely from within the house of our lead couple, Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, we never leave the house. In fact, Lawrence never leaves the house. Aronofsky deliberately locks the camera on Lawrence, often behind her head or to her face as she moves around the building’s interior. These two things make the film deliberately unnerving, tense and claustrophobic. Moments of levity are filmed regularly with wider shots, for whenever characters interact normally.
Initially the film opens with a portent: an inferno. But for the vast majority of the film we are simply listening to these two talking. Bardem and Lawrence have good chemistry, but it is deliberately fractured here; Bardem is struggling to write and often isolates himself, while Lawrence does everything around the house. Everything. While this could well be significant sexism, she is portrayed as a very capable individual, in fact Bardem is often seen as quite foolish and hopeless compared to her. But this questionable dynamic is only the tip of the iceberg.
Enter Ed Harris, a man claiming to be a doctor, who stays at their house. They don’t know who he is, only that he is a fan of Bardem’s writing. Eventually, his wife appears (Michelle Pfeiffer), then their sons, then more and more people. All strangers. Meanwhile Lawrence is experiencing headaches and strange visions of the house around her, along with increasing anxiety from all the strange people.
Aronofsky has painted an elaborate and psychological story here. The film tears into many themes; parenthood, career-mindedness, sexuality, religion, responsibility, death, holy wars, creativity, idols… the list goes on and on, and the film doesn’t tell you which one you should focus on. It keeps its cards close to its chest early on; an empty house, a responsible wife and a aspiring husband, only to hit you really hard and then keep on hitting you.
The third act is something else, something horrifically absurd and awful, something to be talked about. I would say it goes too far in some of its metaphors, but I’ve never seen anything like it.
Aronofsky has incredible eye for details too, especially with sound design and use of colour. Later scenes acquire almost painted visuals, vibrant yet sickly.
As much respect as I can give this, with quality film-making and excellent performances… much like Requiem for a Dream it is just too grim and intense for me. As a writer, I’ve always liked the idea of being known… that’s the goal isn’t it?… Yet this film brings such a hurtful, terrible reality to that goal.
I don’t think I will need to watch it again, but as an experience…
It even shut up the nay-sayers in the audience, allowing them only time to speak out once it was finished.