Mother! beings with a stream of images: a jewel being placed in a metal holder, a reverse metamorphosis of damaged house into a bright, sprawling country estate, a demure Jennifer Lawrence rising from her bed.
Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence (in a role that’s a far cry from her recent Hollywood offerings) star as a married couple living in a large sprawling house isolated from everything. But despite their tranquil surroundings, there’s something very odd about this couple (and no it’s not the huge age gap), their relationship, and definitely this house.
Writer/Director Darren Aronofsky employs first person shooting techniques to shape impressions of this environment through Lawrence’s eyes. Her perspective is the one you’ll experience all the unfolding pandemonium through. Every sound and flash of light builds a subtly malevolent atmosphere all the more unnerving for the soft sunlight and countrified air wafting through big picture windows and stately, if only partially restored, rooms.
Bardem (Him) is a celebrated writer struggling with a lack of inspiration and writer’s block. His frustration is so palatable it’s almost impossible to tell if he’s really mad at the work or at his life. Lawrence (Mother), his bashful wife, moves about their home like a wraith dedicated to restoring the house to its former glory room-by-room while tip-toeing around his abrupt mood swings; acting the quiet, but supportive and encouraging, wife. Her actions have an edge of silent desperation; as though she hopes everything she does will eventually capture his undivided attention…and affection.
A knock at the door brings the couple an unexpected guest. A man (Ed Harris) shows up under the mistaken impression the couple runs a bed and breakfast where he can rent a room. We don’t know where he got this information and it’s clear that the lady of the house is not open to the idea of having an overnight guest. Harris brings the outside world closer to this couple’s door with all the awkward grace and creepy vibe of a man with an agenda.
For reasons, that still have my scalp itchy, Bardem’s character invites him to stay and not long (or at least I don’t think so – the passing of time is murky) he’s joined by his wife, played by Michelle Pfeiffer (at her What Lies Beneath best). Pfeffer’s arrival slowly introduces an element of menace as she speaks with a callous disregard for her hosts and moves about their home with little care for their belongings or feelings. Her lack of interest in censoring herself or respecting personal boundaries is a tangible manifestation of the disruptions brewing just out of frame.
You’ll quickly realize that none of the characters have proper names. To Aronofsky, who they are is less important than what they represent in his script. The timeline of their lives, and the passage of time in general, blends and blurs together – as though we’re only glimpsing the significant events in full focus – as the story moves forward. This wasn’t very bothersome because Bardem, Lawrence, Harris, and Pfieffer all played their parts with such subtle flair, a vivid fierceness, and depth of emotion that erased any curiosity about their names.
You’ll think you know where the story’s going. You’ll think you’ve figured out what’s the twist and settle back to wait for the turn and the reveal. Very shortly thereafter, both your conviction and this couple’s seemingly idyllic existence comes to an abrupt and violent end and thus begins the roller coaster ride that is the core of Mother!
As the outside world invades their home, Lawrence’s anxiety visibly rises as she contends with both her husband’s neglect and the interlopers who’ve settled in as though they have more rights to her home than she.
As everything – and seriously I mean everything – continues to unravel and spiral into literal chaos, you come to realize that Mother! is an allegory wrapped in a dark twisted fairy tale. The intertwined layers of meaning bring a sick kind of logic and psychotic sense to even the most fantastical and gory elements of this story.
The entire cast brought their game and infused a startling realism into a setting that reeks of the supernatural. But there’s no real way to discuss the movie’s details or their roles any further without spoiling so I’m not about to try and risk ruining your movie going experience.
Cinematographer Matthew Libatique again joins Aronofsky bringing his unique ability to make everything look natural and real even as the things go dark and eerie. His camera angles and color scheme choices bridge the story’s red herrings and misdirects through movement holding the characters together even as everything else deliberately sparks confusion and dismay. Every frame mirrors the characters’ moods and carries the tension, and increasingly unhinged feeling, forward through striking visuals.
There are more than a few moments that feel fragmented, self-aggrandizing, and grotesquely over the top, but this is a horror film (if you didn’t clock that, then there will be a point in the movie when you just completely check out because viscera) masquerading as a straightforward thriller and if you bear with it through to the end, the turn and reveal will leave you with a whole host of questions and images you’ll spend some time poking at as you wonder in hell you just watched.
If you caught the context clues, you’ve realized by the mid-point of the movie that although, we’re seeing the story unfold from Lawrence’s point of view, this is a tale centered around Bardem’s character, Him. This is his world and the consequences of all that happens within this house spiral out from him. Him, is the living embodiment of self-involvement and need. Mother! is, on one level, a cautionary tale as we witness the rot his carelessness unleashes manifest and seeps from the walls of the house itself.
If you know anything about Darren Aronofsky, (think Black Swan and Requiem of a Dream not Noah) then you already know what to expect from Mother!…a dark and twisted story that may fail to fully make sense but whose possible meanings will eat at your psyche and absolutely disturb your peace of mind long after you’ve left the theater.
It’s not the best Aronofsky has brought to the big screen – there just one long sequence in the thick of the movie that’s just too chaotic and unnecessarily discombobulated so parts of the film will fail in conveying any meaning to many movie-goers – but it’s absolutely going to be polarizing. You’re either going to love it or hate it. Mother! leaves no emotional room for anything in between.
I personally liked most of Mother! but then again, I adore creepy, dark, sensually gothic, disturbing, complicated and potentially psychologically damaging stories…at the heart of my horror movies.
Score: 3.5 out of 5