Better critics have already summed up how you are probably going to feel about “mother!”, so it would be foolish of me to make a broken record out of the buzz. However, there is something to be said for the consensus, that this polarized reaction is one of the many reasons why Darren Aronofsky’s new film is kind of a big deal. Wait, no…not kind of big; it’s monstrous. The whole thing behaves like a wild animal bursting from its cage and wreaking all kinds of unspeakable havoc. I write the word “unspeakable” even though I so desperately wish to divulge the insanity of this thing. But as with any film this dense (some might claim otherwise), there isn’t much sense to be made of it, at least not traditionally. If you’re like the four old folks in my crowd who chuckled at the end of the film, you’re likely to tear it to shreds. If you’re like me, “mother!" will tear you to shreds.
Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) spends every waking minute of her life refurbishing the childhood home of Him (Javier Bardem) in an effort to win the love he claims to have for her, and to help inspire new ideas for his poetry. Lately, though, he hasn’t been able to write a word, to which Mother reacts with quiet dissatisfaction. Suddenly, a Man (Ed Harris) comes knocking at the couple’s door, asking to spend the night. Mother is immediately critical of the stranger, who doesn’t really bother Him at all. In fact, he seems quite eager to let the gentleman stay. The next morning, a Woman (the effervescent Michelle Pfeiffer), who turns out to be the Man’s husband, shows up unannounced as well. The two quickly make themselves at home, and before Mother can even begin to comprehend why they’re here, more people enter. To say that everything goes downhill from there hardly scratches the surface.
Aronofsky elicits a mix of reactions right from the get go, rendering the brain unable to draw any conclusions from what it’s processing. The first shot is jarring enough for one to wonder if the end of another film somehow found its way into this one, but by the time the credits roll, viewers will realize that Aronofsky lays out his entire game plan before the title card even appears. The film begins, and as Mother wanders the house with an elegance that will never be seen again, there is nary a sound to be heard, creating a fundamental distrust of everything within the frame. Aronofsky expertly chooses to expel the use of a musical score, leaving the film as emotionally raw as possible. This paradise in progress is so uncomfortably isolated from the rest of the world, though the idea of an outside world at all quickly dissipates as the fabric of Mother’s reality is disturbed. Lawrence is really out of her comfort zone here, doing the bulk of her work in extreme close-ups that take up more than half of the runtime. She runs the gambit of facial expression as she deals with her troublesome guests, and a husband who may be even worse.
As Mother’s world crumbles around her, the film makes its grand implications more apparent. Aronofsky devotees won’t be so surprised to discover the theological and spiritual exercises that the director goes through here. If “The Fountain” is the ultimate guide to his religious beliefs, then “mother!” is a reconsideration of those beliefs. Aronofsky is coming from an incredibly dark place here, deciding the hell with it by breaking almost every rule in the book and throwing us into an an unabashedly difficult experience. “mother!” is excitingly original in terms of pure experience, but it certainly isn’t without its influences. As the poster suggests, the film owes a huge debt to “Rosemary’s Baby” for its narrative ambitions (Polanski’s “Repulsion” is cited here as well). Luis Buñuel's work comes to mind during the twisted final act, namely the logic-defying atmosphere of “The Exterminating Angel.” If that wasn't enough, the film also unravels like a Lars von Trier joint, paving the way for doom to take hold of all that comes in its way.
“mother!” flies off the rails of sanity so often that many will feel compelled to dismiss it as snuff. Even as someone who eats up this kind of psychological horror, I can’t say I blame them. There are a few moments where the film comes dangerously close to the realm of unintentional hilarity that it may well trigger a giggle or two. Yet in its maniacally uncompromising manner, any kind of reaction to it is warranted, which brings me back to my earlier point. The spectrum of opinion that will arise from Aronofsky’s film will be one of many reasons why it will go down as one of the most talked-about films in recent memory. Whether it will become a classic sooner or later remains unknown, but what is certain is that “mother!” is a masterpiece of deranged beauty, and one of the best films of the decade.