mother! is an ambitious work that bucks traditional storytelling techniques with its aspirations, but its approach will not be for all moviegoers.
Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) lives a tranquil and peaceful life with her husband, Him (Javier Bardem), in their remote home, isolated from the rest of society. He is a famous poet who is struggling to find the proper inspiration for his next piece, while she works on fixing up the house after it had been burnt to the ground in a fire. Mother aspires to create a paradise for the two, but Him's extensive writer's block puts a strain on their relationship.
One night, a man (Ed Harris) visits Mother and Him's home, looking for a place to stay after traveling a great distance. Him is excited to have the company, and Mother reluctantly agrees to let the man spend the night. The next day, the man's wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) comes to the house to spend time with her husband, and Mother's existence continues to unravel as more and more admirers and fans of Him come and make the house their own. Desperate for things to go back to the way they were, Mother tries to convince Him to make their guests leave before all is lost.
Billed as a psychological horror/thriller, mother! is the latest film from writer/director Darren Aronofsky, who found himself in a dark and troubled place when developing this film. The auteur has made a career of challenging his viewers with unconventional narratives that typically deal with unsettling subject matter, and this instance is no different, leaving audiences with quite the puzzle to put together long after the credits have rolled. mother! is an ambitious work that bucks traditional storytelling techniques with its aspirations, but its approach will not be for all moviegoers.
Aronofsky is no stranger to incorporating Biblical themes and elements into his films (see: Noah), and he doubles down on those influences with mother!. His script is in essence one big metaphor that aims to provide commentary on the state of the world and humanity - at times beating viewers over the head with its message. While this concept is admirable and sounds fascinating on-paper, it may not have been executed in the most compelling way. Aronofsky gets so preoccupied with the symbolism in mother! that for the most part, he forgoes setting up the characters and relationships in a way for general audiences to truly be invested in what is happening. Some viewers will definitely appreciate the director's commitment to realizing his vision, but many of roles come across as being thinly-defined and just a stand-in for something else - which make the payoffs unearned.
mother! is a mixed bag in the screenplay department, though there is no denying Aronofsky remains at the top of his craft from a technical standpoint. The film's visuals look great onscreen, with much credit going to cinematographer Matthew Libatique. A majority of the movie is shot in closeups, and the camerawork is used to instill a sense of claustrophobia and dread. In typical Aronofsky fashion, there's plenty of disturbing imagery in mother! as well, and while this can be reminiscent of his 2010 hit Black Swan, it does a good job of unnerving viewers. In some ways, the home invasion aspects of the film are grounded and more terrifying than a standard horror movie - as "normal" everyday people are used in place of a slasher monster/threat. The pure insanity of what's happening can put viewers on edge, giving mother! an unpredictable edge where just about anything is possible.
In terms of the performances, Lawrence is the clear standout as Mother, delivering an emotionally vulnerable and demanding turn as a pure, innocent woman who gets pushed further and further into madness. The Oscar-winner does her best at making the most of the material, giving mother! the closest thing it has to a protagonist viewers can see themselves in. Unfortunately, there's only so much she can do, since there aren't many layers to her character as it's written. The same can be said for Bardem as Him, who isn't bad in the role, but doesn't leave a lasting impression. What's more memorable about the leads is what they mean in terms of mother!'s overarching metaphors - not necessarily the traits and nature of the individual parts themselves. This will make it difficult for some to get attached to this couple, since there isn't much put into selling their chemistry and romance beyond the surface level.
The main supporting cast of mother! is small, with Harris and Pfeiffer being the ones with the most to chew on. For the most part, their characters suffer from the same shortcomings as Mother and Him; they work as clear allegories in regards to the film's ideas, but that can only go so far in establishing a connection with viewers. Pfeiffer does command the attention of the audience with her provocative and alluring screen presence, injecting Woman with some seductive and tempting sensibilities. Harris is fine as Man, getting the job done by being rather unassuming. Other minor roles are filled by names like Domhnall Gleeson and Kristen Wiig, but they aren't onscreen enough to make much of an impact.
mother! has already earned the reputation of being a polarizing film, and how one enjoys it will depend solely on how willing one is to buy into what Aronofsky has to say and the manner in which he tells his story. The director is attempting to tackle some lofty motifs here, and on a certain level that is respectable. However, mother! will certainly not be everyone's cup of tea, playing out as a film that's difficult to box into a specific genre or target demographic. From that perspective, it may be worth checking out for those intrigued by the marketing or Aronofsky in general, since mother! is definitely unlike anything else that will play this year.
mother! is now playing in U.S. theaters. It runs 121 minutes and is rated R for strong disturbing violent content, some sexuality, nudity and language.
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