mother! jennifer lawrence javier bardem reviewYear: 2017
Director(s): Darren Aronofsky
Writer(s): Darren Aronofsky
Region of Origin: US

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
16mm, Color, 121 mins

Synopsis: A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence. (Source)

Even by arthouse standards, Darren Aronofksy’s mother! is an intimidating puzzle to crack. The film is deeply personal, intimate and densely layered. It looks and feels like a horror film, yet it doesn’t play by genre rules or adhere to what we’ve been conditioned to expect from narrative. Aronofsky toys with ideas about creation, ego, love, spirituality and our damning human nature to destroy each other, but for all intents and purposes, mother! seems purposely designed to allow a number of interpretations. No matter how challenging the film is, however, it’s completely hypnotic from enigmatic first frame to apocalyptic finish. And, unlike any other film this year, this one feels like a direct dialogue to the viewer, challenging each one to step outside of their comfort zone perhaps as Aronofsky himself exorcizes his demons at 24 frames per second. Love it or hate it, this is the work of an auteur at his most uninhibited, an audacious cinematic experiment that feels as pure and uncanny as it is pretentious, and as liberating as it is oppressively esoteric.

The story centers around two characters known only as Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and Him (Javier Bardem). The couple live in a quaint, but elegant home somewhere in a secluded countryside. Mother spends her days laboriously, but lovingly restoring the home after an unknown event left it in ruins. As for Him, he is stuck in a sort of stasis, a well-known author unable to find inspiration for his next book. The couple’s quiet life is interrupted one day when a Man (Ed Harris) turns up on their doorstep, looking for shelter. The writer is excited at the prospect of company, much to the dismay of Mother. One thing leads to another, the Man’s wife, known only as Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up, and this is where things really go off the rails. Mother and Him’s very existence is thrown into disarray, sending the former into a tailspin as she tries to maintain some sense of normalcy in the face of constant upheaval.

Like the house that Mother and Him reside in, the film feels like a living, breathing entity, fighting tooth and nail to enter our psyche as we try and make sense of it. I suppose the easiest way to tackle the plot is through its framing metaphor about creation. Aronofsky uses a trio of ideas to explore what it means to create something, whether it be art, life or anything in between. There’s a biblical angle that explores Him (as the Creator) and his thirst for inspiration and adoration, but also his apathy towards a world that is driven to devour itself because of his work. Then there’s Mother’s point of view and relationship with Him, calling out a casual mistreatment of women. She gives Him everything, but he’s constantly self-absorbed to notice that she’s been stripped of any agency or affection. Lastly, there’s our relationship with the world around us, illustrated through the film’s absurdist third act, one that pulls back to reveal a big picture, and possibly how we treat the earth itself. All of these things collide throughout and synthesize into an impressionistic view on existence, one which feels semi-autobiographical and lined with a passionate plea for discourse. As insane and twisted as the film gets, we can’t help but feel how personal and honest it is, even if its emotion lies embedded within a complex network of symbols and metaphors.

mother! jennifer lawrence reviewFalling in line with the film’s heady dream logic, the characters on display feel more like ideas, fleshed out in the form of people who transform or stay defiantly stagnant throughout. At any rate, the performances are incredible to watch as Aronofsky’s film transforms from chamber piece to larger-than-life satire. At the head of it all, Jennifer Lawrence commands the film. Aronofsky almost exclusively presents the action by capturing Lawrence’s reactions, her face placed dead center within each frame, staring straight into the camera. As he followers her throughout the house and the mounting chaos that happens within, Lawrence’s transformation is a sight, drawing us right into her devastation and the confusion it spawns. Opposite, Javier Bardem’s Him is kept at a distance, but mysterious and evocative all the same. Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer are chaos incarnate, both utterly charismatic and fatally sinister in the same breath. These are the standouts, each bringing to life complex ideas in ways that are deliberately unsettling, yet completely relatable.

Ultimately, mother! proves how homogenized filmmaking has become. If it makes people feel dumb or angry, it’s because we’ve come to expect a hollow product every time we buy a ticket to the movies. Aronofsky’s latest is the exception to the rule, a work of art that lingers in our mind and demands to be engaged. In my opinion, it’s a bold achievement that deserves more than a fleeting gut reaction. Still, whether mother! a sincere exploration on the nature of existence or an unwatchable piece of trash is up to the viewer. For the first time in a long time, though, Aronofksy’s film sits comfortably out of any neat label, forcing us to come to our own conclusion as we participate in its madness.
SG