mother! is the new fantastical horror from Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream director Darren Aronofsky who is best known for making thought-provoking films. His latest is going to achieve this to the highest degree, as filmgoers are going to try and decipher this film like a Rubix Cube for months. What exactly is mother! about? This is a difficult question to answer, partially because it may not have an answer. The best summary of this film would be to describe it as a home invasion thriller, where a seemingly happy couple’s isolated estate is turned upside-down by a mysterious duo. This brief synopsis is true, but still sells this incredible film short in regards to what it really is. As the credits rolled, I sat in awe and shock at what I had just seen, much like the rest of the audience. mother! is much more than just a film. It is an experience. Regardless of how you feel about it, it is hands-down the most unique experience you’ll have this year in a theater.
The film follows Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem’s characters simply known as “Mother” and “Him,” who live in a gigantic house in the middle of nowhere. They lead a quiet, tranquil life while Mother rebuilds the home and Him focuses on his writing, or his lack thereof as he suffers from writer’s block. From the moment we are introduced to the house and Mother, you can already sense that something is slightly off. Even Lawrence’s deliberately natural look is very obvious, as well as Him’s oblivious demeanor. Both these features play key roles, that you see more fully as the film unfolds. What starts off as a simple premise escalates to catastrophic proportions after the sensual couple arrives, played by Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris. The couple lets the strangers into their home, quickly stirring up tension within the peaceful residence. The house itself isn’t ready to accept any of this tension either, as it seems to be living in a sense, becoming its own character. However, this new couple is only the fuse to the cinematic bomb that is this story.
Noting the small cast, the performances in this film are all top-notch. Lawrence leads the film and commands the screen for a majority of the runtime. This is a loose Jennifer Lawrence we are seeing, which was quite refreshing given Lawrence’s usual big, charismatic characters. Her vulnerability is key to the film and mother! wouldn’t work without it. Javier Bardem was a perfect casting choice for this role, with his slightly intimidating presence, yet simultaneously soft demeanor. Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris bring their natural brand of mystery, specifically Pfeiffer whose facial expressions and line delivery deserve awards on their own. There is also a big name that is not really billed and her impact is better being a surprise. She really just adds another wild card to this film. Another surprising aspect to mother! is the lack of a score, a first for an Aronofsky film. Normally I’m against this, but it worked really well as it let the house have a larger role. The sound design is impeccable, as you hear every creak and footstep in the film. The camera movement through the house is also incredible, as you twist and swirl trying to navigate such a gigantic estate. The film was rehearsed and test shot in an abandoned warehouse so that the cast and Aronofsky could better map the house out, which pays off in one of the most impressive scenes of the year.
Now, I’ve been pretty vague about the plot so far, as it is hard to talk about mother! without going into spoilers or giving away too much and taking away from the experience of the film. This is exactly why everyone just needs to see it for themselves, as this project has a million interpretations and everyone is going to see it differently. Aronofsky had a lot on his mind when writing this screenplay, resulting in the first draft being completed in just five days. A lot of people will say this led to an indulgent final project and they are partially right. However, isn’t that what a director is supposed to do when they have something to say? Creators pour their heart and mind out and let the audience decide if they want to indulge. People will ask if certain visceral elements are necessary or there just for shock. I believe the correct answer is both, as a director should include what elements are necessary to tell the story. These same elements are there to shock you, because shock is necessary. These questions to me are just picking away at the ambition of Aronofsky, rather than applauding him for crafting one of the most ambitious studio films not only of this year, but of this century. This movie covers a vast array of themes, from religion to the Big Bang to the struggling artist to motherhood, depending on your interpretation. mother! may not be the tightest script in the world, but due to its ambition, I’ll give it a bit of a pass.
The directing isn’t the best at times either, given the personal nature of the script and it’s layered chaos. The pacing lacks at times, which is hard for a slow burn horror. This film is a tad over two hours long, so there’s a point where the tension is almost unbearable. But, when things hit the fan (as they always do), this film goes ALL OUT. Aronofsky is known for shocking the audience, with jarring tonal shifts that keep the viewer guessing. Again, without giving away details, I was NOT prepared for the last 25 minutes, so consider me caught off guard. And, unlike the awful marketing suggests, it will mess some people up for sure. More than that, though, this movie makes an impact on you. You will be thinking about it for days, perhaps even years.
mother! is a must see film. Some people will love it, and some people will hate it (hell, some already do). I think Darren Aronofsky accomplishes what he set out to do. He wanted to make a statement as an artist on his current psyche and take on what’s going on in the world around us. It is up to everyone’s unique interpretation to say whether he accomplished this or not. However, there’s no denying that he has gotten people to talk. I can’t recommend this movie to everybody, especially if you’re not a fan of his previous work. Darren went full Aronofsky with this film. I was sucked into the story and the small world it created. Jennifer Lawrence had me entranced, giving another Oscar-worthy performance. mother! has managed to crawl through my eyes and ears, burrowing deep into my brain where it’ll most likely remain for a couple weeks. Floored isn’t even close to how I felt after this film, still searching for words to describe it. mother! is a fever dream like none other that begs to be revisited, which I full intend to do. If you’re a film fan that likes to be challenged or to be left with something to think about, I cannot encourage you enough to see this film. Just have a hug ready on stand-by.
DeVaughn’s Score: 9/10