Hot Take: I’m not sure I get it but I’m still thinking about mother! 2 days later and in my book, that’s a great accomplishment for a movie.
Film students will write papers on mother! someday. Maybe this week. Writer/director Darren Aronofsky will be called a lot of things for what he crafted. Ambitious, audacious, vile, thought provoking, pretentious, provocative, contemptuous, shocking, original, disgusting… the list goes on and on. Not all the words are positive. There’s no way I can unequivocally recommend mother! Look at the Audience Score (44% right now) on Rotten Tomatoes. There’s a pretty good chance you’ll watch mother! and hate it. There were times while watching mother!, I wanted to hate it. A few people even walked out of the showing I went to. After some time to contemplate and really settle on what I thought the film was about (It’s not abundantly clear), I loved this piece of art. It may have been the weirdest mind fuck of a film since 1998 when I watched David Lynch’s Lost Highway but it was a journey I will likely take again and enjoy all of the nuances I missed while being bombarded from all sides during the first viewing. (For the record, I hated Lost Highway the first time I saw it and now it’s one of my favorite 100 films.)
Somehow most of Aronofsky’s works have escaped me. I’ve seen The Wrestler and thought it was phenomenal but I somehow haven’t found time to add Pi, Requiem for a Dream or Black Swan to my viewed list. Those 3 films that have gone sight unseen for me haven’t gone undiscussed. People form strong opinions on his work and I’ve been given mini-lectures on all 3 films both positive and negative. My guess is mother! will be a similarly polarizing conversation should the discussion arise. I’m not even really sure what to classify the film as. I’ve been told it’s horror but it was more creepy and unnerving than anything. I’m more in the camp of the film being unclassifiable. If you have to classify it as something, I’d categorize it as a think piece. Is that a film genre? It should be.
Jennifer Lawrence is phenomenal in her role as Mother. The characters don’t have names, by the way. Remember pretentious? Now you’re catching on. She’s 100% going to be nominated for a Golden Globe for this role because, well, she’s Jennifer Lawrence and they’re the Golden Globe Awards and that’s how it works. Javier Bardem plays her husband. He doesn’t have a name either. Let’s just call him Him, for argument’s sake. They live in the middle of nowhere in a beautiful country mansion surrounded by lush fields. The film has an unusual start with a woman resembling Lawrence on fire, Him admiring a beautiful glass-like object and the house and fields coming to life. Then Mother wakes up in bed. Eventually, their solitude is interrupted by a man who since he doesn’t have a name, we’ll call Man (Ed Harris). Mother is uneasy with his presence but he’s welcomed in by Him who is a writer and Man is a fanatical admirer of His work. Despite her protests, Him allows Man to stay for the night. Mother is awakened by the absence of Him in bed and when she finally happens upon Him and Man, they are in the bathroom and Him immediately covers up a wound on Man’s side that looks to be somewhere around the rib cage area. The next day, a woman who we’ll call Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives and identifies herself as Man’s wife. Again, no names just Mother, Him, Man and Woman. I never argued this film isn’t pretentious. Mother is completely unsettled by their presence and gets even more uncomfortable as the opinionated Woman shares her contemptuous views and thoughts with Mother on her sex life, motherhood and even Mother’s undergarments. Unfortunately, sharing more about the film would reach “spoiler” territory so we’ll stop there. But you get the drift… I think.
mother! is a rare piece of art at the cinema. Unlike the previously mentioned Lynch who dealt in a more abstract art in many of his films, Aronofsky (Again, I think!) is focused on symbolism and allegory. It’s not simply a high tension trouble relationship thriller although, it appears that way on the surface. There’s more going on beneath the surface. My guess is if you can’t get there in your mind to think about this film on a different level, you’re most likely to hate it. If you’re not buying the symbolism or think it’s trying too hard, you’re likely to dismiss it. I don’t fall into either of those categories and not only did I thoroughly enjoy the film’s process, I’m looking forward to a second viewing to see if I feel the same way.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, they say. My guess, based on skimming other reviews and looking at audience reaction, is that for many mother! would be classified as trash instead of treasure. A definite signal the mostly vapid summer movie season is over, mother! caps off a very strong recent run of releases in August and September, 2 months not particularly known to deliver. Although, to be fair, last year August and September gave us Hell or High Water and Sully but I still think the addition of mother! to the previously released Wind River and It puts this year’s August and September class ahead of 2016. That’s a rare positive sign in a relatively soft year for films. At the box office, mother! won’t be much of a threat. It’ll be interesting to see how it fares when it comes to Awards season. Lawrence’s performance feels strong enough to weather the next couple of months of releases and remain relevant but Aronofsky has only been nominated for Black Swan previously. It feels unlikely there’s enough here to make it into the conversation but it’ll be interesting if it somehow finds it’s way there.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- High Tension
Aronofsky’s angle choices and close-ups of Lawrence (Combined with her excellent non-verbal mood conveyance) delivers a tension that sustains throughout the film. With everything else going on in mother! there’s a chance Lawrence’s contributions get lost but she does so much to enhance the mood and add to the tension.
- Admirably Ambitious
For a studio film, Aronofsky takes us down an unexpected path. He says a lot here without ever really explaining his work or the story. There’s exposition to be uncovered but there’s a chance you might miss it and have to double back later to catch up. There’s no doubt that the work is a little bit pretentious and even a little ostentatious but there’s excellent work here if you choose to look past the pretentiousness.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- mother! Isn’t For Everyone (And That’s Okay)
The only problem with that statement is that we need more films like mother! but it’s highly unlikely it’ll be a financial superstar and, overall, critics are only somewhat enthused and audiences have been less than thrilled which doesn’t make it any easier for films like mother! to get made.