mother! is a cinematic experience like no other and features Jennifer Lawrence’s best role to date and a story that’s as crazy as they can get.
There’s a point about halfway through Darren Aronofsky’s mother! where you’re still in the dark on what the film is about, a bit confused, and ultimately weirded out by the film. But wait, it gets weirder. Someone once said that every movie is secretly about their director. And if mother! is any reflection of Aronofsky, then I’m very worried for his well-being. This is art with a capital “A,” but it’s the kind of glorious, messy, chaotic art that makes you want to dissect every image, sound, and word.
Luckily for us, our audience surrogate is Jennifer Lawrence, whose unnamed character is only credited as mother. She spends her days renovating her and her husband’s (Javier Bardem, also unnamed and credited as him) country estate while he compulsively tries to write his second book of poems. Of course, he has debilitating writer’s block that seems to only be aggravated by his wife’s presence. While it’s not a perfect existence, it’s a comfortable one for them. That is until an unwelcome visitor (Ed Harris) unexpectedly stops by the couple’s home mistaking it for a bed and breakfast. To mother’s surprise and dismay, her husband invites the visitor to stay with them. Eventually, the visitor’s wife arrives (Michelle Pfeiffer, who’s never been better) and immediately butts heads with mother. From there, chaos ensues. But, I promise you, it’s not in a way that you’d ever imagine.
But what is mother! about? The only answer is the pretentious one. It’s about anything you want it to be about. Art, marriage, celebrity, chaos, religion, good, evil, all of those things, none of those things. To try and unpack what mother! is trying to say is probably a means to a good cry and a bottle of wine. That’s because for as unsubtle the movie is, its themes are kept under wraps. At times, it reveals itself and revels in it. But it doesn’t matter. Because trying to interpret mother! for other people is like trying to tell someone what their favorite color is. You can’t force the answer on them, so I’m not going to force my interpretation on you.
However, I’ll say this. Aronofsky is a filmmaker that knows how to capture a person under extreme pressure. His films like Black Swan, The Wrestler, and Requiem For A Dream all look into the lives of people that are being crushed under the weight of their own humanity. In mother! he uses crushing close-ups on Lawrence — the camera rarely moves away from her — to fully communicate the claustrophobia of the chaos that she endures. Even when the movie becomes enormous, he stays tight on her. It also helps that she’s giving one of the best performances of her career. Though, Bardem and especially Pfeiffer give performances that elevate the movie, as well.
Aronofsky immaculately orchestrated the film, but in areas that are sometimes neglected. The production design, in particular, is perfect. The minimally decorated house with all it’s awkward angles, endless doorways, and rustic charm work together to make the perfect setting for the film — we never leave the house. The sound design is also a feat of technical wizardry. We hear every sounds with a distinct sharpness. Even when the chaos reaches its peak, we can isolate every sound. That’s because we’re filtering them through mother.
It’s hard to do this movie justice in words. It’s bold and breathtaking filmmaking that signals a new era of studio filmmaking — yes, this was a studio film. One that’s unafraid to take risks, ask incredible things of its actors, and ultimately tell a story that not everyone will get, but the select few who do will be rewarded. Take from the harrowing experience what you will, but the most important thing to remember is that mother! is an experience. An all out assault on your senses. And one you will have been happy to endure.
★★★★½ out of 5