Posted by

Allen Adams Allen Adams
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

edge staff writer


The mainstreamed madness of ‘mother!’

September 20, 2017
Rate this item
(1 Vote)

Aronofsky’s latest a bizarre, unsettling allegory

It’s rare for me to struggle with what to say about a film.

Whether a movie is good or bad or somewhere in the middle, I usually have little problem in articulating why I feel the way I do about a film or my opinion with regards to whether or not you should go see something.

But then I see a film like “mother!” and I don’t know what the hell to tell you.

The latest offering from weirdo auteur Darren Aronofsky (“Requiem for a Dream,” “Black Swan”) is back with his first feature film since 2014’s “Noah.” The film – starring Jennifer Lawrence (“Passengers”) and Javier Bardem (“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”) – might be one of the strangest and most challenging films to ever receive a release on this scale. It is tonally bleak and aesthetically brilliant and narratively scattered.

And I’m still not sure if I liked it or not.

Lawrence and Bardem (neither is ever named; she is billed as “Mother” and he as “Him,” but their names are never spoken) are living in a sprawling, isolated, ramshackle old house. She spends her days keeping house and trying to renovate and reinvigorate the place. He spends his time striving to recapture creative inspiration – he’s a renowned poet struggling with writer’s block.

The fraught nature of their dynamic is worsened by the arrival of a man (Ed Harris, TV’s “Westworld”) who claims to have been directed there to find a place to stay. However, it soon becomes clear that his presence is no accident; he’s an admirer and devotee of the poet’s work. So much so that he asks his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer, “The Wizard of Lies”) to join him; much to Mother’s chagrin, the poet invites them both to stay indefinitely.

That opens the floodgates for more and more people to flow into the house, from the two sons of the couple (played by real-life brothers Domhnall and Brian Gleeson) to an unending horde of admirers, all of whom are utterly devoted to the poet and utterly indifferent (and at times outright hostile) toward their reluctant hostess.

As more and more people arrive, leaving Mother less and less able to cope with the chaos, her entire world threatens to fall apart and the only person who can help her – the poet – is far more concerned with his throngs of admirers. Especially when he finally completes his newest work.

From there, it gets WEIRD.

In case you haven’t picked it up from this, “mother!” plays out as a Biblical allegory, tracing the relationship dynamics and sad triangles formed between God, man and Nature. It’s the Bible by way of blunt force; there’s really no mistaking what the filmmaker is trying to do here, even as he goes about it in graphic, unsettling and occasionally nonsensical ways.

Not that Aronofsky has ever been one for subtlety. Yes, he’s at his best when he’s finding ways to blur the lines between perception and reality as they exist for people who are skewed and/or damaged, but even then, he has a tendency to be extremely confrontational in terms of both narrative and aesthetic presentation.

Unfortunately, “mother!” doesn’t allow much room for that blurring. We’re almost immediately thrust into a world that doesn’t even pretend to operate with any kind of real consistency. That nebulousness saps much of the story’s potential strength. Additionally, there’s no room for the sorts of questions that power Aronofsky’s best work. The end result is a film that doesn’t really make sense while also refusing to allow us to ask WHY it doesn’t make sense. It’s lurid and loud and aggressive, picking fights with a wide swath of the audience.

The performances are fine. Jennifer Lawrence has plenty of talent, though she isn’t done any favors by Aronofsky’s choice to frame her face in close-up for what feels like half the film’s runtime. It’s funny, but I’d argue that she’d have been better in just about any other Aronofsky movie – there’s an emptiness here that doesn’t take advantage of her strengths. Bardem is good in a role that seems disinterested in making a decision about what it wants to be. There’s sensitivity and alpha-male bluster and heartfelt concern and cold indifference and no rhyme or reason to what happens when. Harris, the Gleesons and particularly Pfeiffer do strong supporting work.

There’s no disputing the visceral impact of “mother!” It’s a film you will absolutely be thinking about for some time afterward. And it is incredibly well-made. But it is also oddly forced in its transgression, trying specifically to shock. There’s an inorganic quality to the film as a result, which in turn makes you question its sincerity.

A lot of people are going to hate this movie. I’m not one of them, though I’m still not quite sure how I do feel about it. Frankly, that’s probably the whole point.

[4 out of 5]

Latest from Allen Adams

Related items (by tag)

back to top