The wondrous thing about movies are the innumerous avenues and routes available to the artists behind the lens. Bombastic or simplistic, straight forward or contorted, limits only exist within the creators themselves. Darren Aronofsky (The Fountain, Black Swan) is a filmmaker who prides himself on barreling forward on the road less traveled. And with Jennifer Lawrence in tow for his latest, Mother! aims to veer farther off course than ever before.
Jennifer Lawrence stars as the titular Mother, a lonely housewife who spends her every waking moment tending to her husband and personally renovating their isolated home in the vastness of Nowhere, USA. Mother’s husband, known simply as Him (Javier Bardem), is a poet suffering a horrendous case of writer’s block, desperate in his search for words and meaning. Inspiration arrives in the form of Man and Woman (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer), an enigmatic couple seeking solace and comfort, hinting at something more. By the time their children arrive at Mother’s door (real-life brothers Brian and Domhnall Gleeson), the entirety of Aronofsky’s vision begins to take focus.
Much has been made of Mother’s marketing, or rather lack thereof. While I will not spoil the intricate details of the allegories at play here, I will elaborate on what works, and more importantly, what does not. This secrecy in regards to the plot has been emphasized to draw audiences in, “behold the horrors that await”, etc. Let’s get that out of the way immediately; this is hyperbole. Mother! is no more horror than Halloween is a whimsical family flick. Nor is it meant to be. As with nearly everything in his cinematic arsenal, Mother! is meant to represent the sensorium of Aronofsky’s own mind, reflecting his critique of the human condition.
For the first hour, Mother! is enrapturing. Captivating us with Jennifer Lawrence’s increasingly haunting performance as a woman slowly losing grip with the realities of her surroundings, Aronofsky fixates the camera on Lawrence’s every posture and glance. Mother is the center of our universe for the entirety of the film’s runtime, and Lawrence capitulates herself completely to the journey. This first hour, though, unfolds with purpose and patience, masterfully setting the stage for the river of punishment and terror sure to come knocking. Each of the actors bring their ‘A’ game – special mention for Pfeiffer’s gleefully mischievous arc – yet Lawrence remains the steadfast spackle that bonds the integrity together.
Then the second hour happens.
Much like the film itself, this review is of two minds: the first half a blissful compliment to the work of everyone involved, the second half a scathing dissection of everything that went wrong.
As we are led into this second half, one thing is assured; this is not the film you thought it was. Typically, that is a fantastic element to pull off for any film. To lead your audience down a path, and then vehemently flip the script on what they believed was occurring is often the rarest of achievement for any filmmaker. Playing with expectations takes skill and precision. The trick is, if you change course midflight, you better be damn sure you can stick the landing. Instead, Mother! crashes and burns.
Everything about this first half is measured and deliberate, subtle yet assured. The second half, on the other hand, evolves into grabbing that proverbial hammer and pounding in nail after symbolic nail of personal ideology. Darren Aronofsky has a message to deliver, and he’ll be damned if you are going to miss it. Often times, his work feels born to elicit a response, almost Pavlovian in many ways. But the more I ponder the exposition within Aronofsky’s work, I begin to realize the truth is a bit more exact: he’s trolling us.
One can almost envision the director on screen – standing just out of frame – wearing a heavy scarf on a 90-degree day, intertwining his fingers while cheesing a Cheshire smile. This latter half of Mother! is not stacked with abstract meaning or contemplative parables, it’s a more intelligent iteration of “your momma” jokes. The entirety of the film devolves into a rather mundane insult, tossed at its creator’s own fawning admirers. By the concluding frame, when the “complexity” of the narrative has finally unfurled into a cluttered hodgepodge of beliefs and philosophies, all we are left with is a perplexing yet infuriating feeling of “was he talking to me?!”
The answer to that is yes, of course he was. Mother! and Noah both appear to be emblematic of Aronofsky’s seeming contempt for both mankind as a species, and film audiences as a whole. Even the title’s spelling – is it an upper or lowercase M, we’ll let you decide – reeks of pretentious snark. Much like a religious sect, many cinephiles will gladly pick up Aronofsky’s apple and take out a bite for the team, challenging any who dispute the intellectual thoughtfulness contained within these frames. Me, I choked just trying to swallow this sycophantic nonsense.
Demonstrating there is no metaphor too grand for director Darren Aronofsky, Mother! provides a stylized canvas for a paint-by-numbers story, wasting a daring star turn from Jennifer Lawrence in the process. By the time the flawless first half gives way to its contemptuous conclusion, I found myself wishing the entire project had just been aborted.
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer
Screenplay by Darren Aronofsky
Directed by Darren Aronofsky