REVIEW: mother! (2017)

Poster – Paramount Pictures

The following is a review of mother! – Directed by Darren Aronofsky

In a couple of days, the internet is going to be ablaze with criticism and controversy following the opening weekend of Darren Aronofsky’s mother! In fact, some may say that it already is. I wouldn’t know. I’ve tried to stay away from the hype surrounding this movie, mostly because I was hooked from the first trailer. The first trailer showed me everything I thought I needed to know about the movie, and I think most people were intrigued to see an Aronofsky film that certainly looked like a creepy thriller. But let me tell you this much, it may not be the movie you think it is.

And, well, before I move on with this review, I should probably warn you. This is a genre-bending movie that a lot of people are going to hate. I know that ‘hate’ is a strong word, but I’m not throwing that word around willy-nilly here. When I watched the movie, a handful of people left before the film was over, and the general consensus from the people around me seemed to be that this was one of the worst films they had seen all year. I don’t agree with that. I actually like the movie, but I do see why they could come to that conclusion. While I ultimately thought Aronofsky’s mother! was fairly fascinating, there are definitely some aspects of the film that are downright frustrating.

Darren Aronofsky is one of our time’s most interesting auteurs. I think his second feature film Requiem for a Dream is a masterpiece, and I do like most of his oeuvre, even though I was not a fan of his last film as a director — 2014’s Noah. His 2010 film Black Swan was a huge success, but it was not without its own controversy. I’ll say this about mother! before getting more specific, it’s a mixture of Noah and Black Swan. It is frustrating, fascinating, at times absolutely insane and impressive, but ambitious all the way through.

In Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, not a single major character is given a name. The film takes place in a large house wherein a renowned and famous writer (played by Javier Bardem) lives with his much younger wife (played by Jennifer Lawrence). At a time when the husband is having creative struggles, a man (played by Ed Harris) knocks on their door. The husband is quick to welcome him in, while his wife is much more cautious about letting people into their own new little piece of paradise.

The first thing I picked up on in mother! was the impeccable sound work. It is one of the easiest things to praise this film for. As is the look of the film. Aronofsky operates with a frustrating amount of close-ups here, which ultimately succeed in bringing us closer to the wife. And that character is played to perfection by Jennifer Lawrence. It is the best work I’ve seen Lawrence do since David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook. It is a dedicated performance that helps to make her character feel warm and relaxed until all hell breaks loose. Her performance may be the single thing that works best in mother! The entire cast is very good, but Lawrence is the star.

mother! is a really intense and stressful movie, wherein the levels of anxiety and intensity keep rising until it has reached a boiling point. That makes the film extremely gripping. It is almost spellbinding at times. But when it does reach that boiling point somewhere around the film’s final act, mother!, admittedly, does become extremely tough to watch as Aronofsky’s new film reaches new levels of insanity for a big studio movie (even if it does at all times feel like more of an art house film). There is a lot of gratuitous violence thrown into the film at the end of the third act, perhaps, for shock value, which, I suspect, is going to cause some people to ask for their money back once they leave the theater.

Up to this point in the review, I haven’t really dived into a discussion on what this film is really about. Trust me, it is for good reason. You can’t really talk about what it’s really about without essentially spoiling the movie. And figuring out what it’s really about is half the fun of watching the movie. So, in these next few paragraphs, I’ll be talking about the themes, the symbolism, and what there is to spoil. So, if you don’t want the movie spoiled for you, then head down to the final paragraph of this review.

Okay, so, there is a lot going on just below the surface in this movie, even though it is presented fairly unsubtly. Early in the film, we’re introduced to the idea that their house has a heart, and, later on in the film, the house bleeds. As more and more people show up at the house and disobey the wife’s rules, the house is weakened and hurt. This is where the film starts to become a larger discussion about overpopulation and climate change. This message, though, is overshadowed by everything else that goes on in the movie.

It didn’t take me all that long to figure out the roles that these characters inhabit. Throughout the film, Aronofsky throws in a lot of biblical references that made me read the film more as his take on religion and creation as a whole. In this reading of the film, the naive husband is quite clearly meant to be a creator – God – whereas his endearing wife fills the role of mother nature. As the easily flattered husband welcomes people into the house, there are very clear signs that point to the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel and other recognizable biblical stories.

I saw mother! as a huge allegory for a proposed naive creator’s never-ending attempt to create a paradise for a corrupt society. This unspoilt naivety from one of the main characters also leads to the film making rather damning comments on fandom, obsession, celebrity, and christianity as a whole. There are people who are not going to respond well to what, at times, may feel like the director is proudly giving you the middle finger.

mother! is not one of the worst films of the year, in my opinion, but I also don’t think it’s as great a piece of cinematic art as the film’s auteur perhaps wanted it to be. mother! is destined to be a divisive movie – of this there can be no doubt. On one end of the spectrum, most audiences may deem it pretentious, while some, on the other hand, may enthusiastically defend it.

While I end up here giving it a positive review, I am of two minds. I am impressed by a lot of what Aronofsky has done with mother!, but I am also disappointed with other parts of the film. I am as shocked by the third act and disappointed with the ending scene, as I am impressed with Jennifer Lawrence and the insanity of the film. I have half a mind to give this a much more glowing review with lots of praise, but I can’t do that, even if it’s one of the most thought-provoking times at the theater this year. Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is an impressive artistic genre-bending film that I suspect a lot of people are going to loathe.

8 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex

2 thoughts on “REVIEW: mother! (2017)

  1. Good review. I thought Lawrence was amazing – as you said. To me, the film was extremely thought provoking and I was both horrified and intrigued at the same time. I couldn’t help but think – not in MY house!! The parts that stand out to me was Lawrence shouting “Stop doing that, don’t do that!!” when chaos was reighning and all of the religious “preaching” and sacrament type stuff was going on. Religion has caused so much destruction on earth and I feel like the film really tried to get that across. I also couldn’t help but sense some “evilness” going on with Javiar Bardem’s character. It was an extremely interesting portrayal of a creator or God, if you will.

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