Darren Aronofsky is known for making eclectic films that may be more metaphor than a straightforward story. His newest endeavor is mother!, a movie which may be the single most surreal thing ever made by a man known for the surreal. Mother! is unique, compelling, and remarkable. It's terrifying, bizarre, and amazing. There's about a 50% chance you're going to fucking hate it.
Mother! stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a couple (they're never given names, nobody in the film is) living in a secluded house which Lawrence's character has been single-handedly fixing up while her husband, a poet, tries (and mostly fails) to overcome his writer's block. Things begin to get strange almost immediately when Ed Harris knocks on their front door, apparently by mistake. But Bardem welcomes him into their home almost instantly and just as quickly invites him to stay the night. His wife, understandably, is shocked by this, as he never asked her, but she goes along amiably enough. The next day, Michelle Pfeiffer arrives, playing Harris' wife, and she too is welcomed into the house immediately. Lawrence's character continues to go along with it, though the new couple makes themselves a little too at home, a little too quickly, in her house.
It's difficult to say how much further to even go when it comes to the film's plot. These half uninvited guests instantly connect with the poet, while mostly ignoring his wife. There's a feeling of unease which permeates every scene. Eventually, that unease comes to a head, but that's only the first half of the movie.
Delving into spoiler territory is nearly impossible, as a large portion of mother! utterly defies description. As the movie goes on, logic, and even linear narrative, start to break down as the movie reaches a crescendo in its third act, which goes completely off the rails. There simply aren't enough synonyms for "batshit insane" to properly describe what happens here.
First, let it be said that, on a surface level, mother! certainly achieves much of what it is trying to accomplish. The movie wants to make you uncomfortable, and it does this in spades. Even before things actually get weird, you can't help but feel like there is just something off about everything you see. That feeling never lets up. There is no relief. That feeling in the pit of your stomach doesn't even go away after the movie ends.
Whatever mother! is able to successfully accomplish on screen is almost entirely due to Jennifer Lawrence and the movie's cinematographer, Matthew Libatique. The actress is in every scene, and nearly every shot, of mother! We follow her incredibly closely, as the camera spends most of its time either right in her face or over her shoulder. This means that we never learn anything more than she does about what is actually going on in the story, so our emotional path perfectly matches hers. From uncomfortable to confused to afraid to overwhelmed, we're right there with her.
That doesn't mean that everything in the movie works. The film's two halves feel less like a cohesive whole than they do two parts roughly sewn together. There are a handful of plot elements and moments introduced early in the film, before things stop making sense entirely, which are never even addressed later on, never mind explained.
Clearly, as with many Darren Aronofsky movies, mother! is trying to say a great deal more than what is actually on the screen. The primary conversation is about gender relationships, with the creative man who simply expects his wife to support him unconditionally while refusing to do the same thing for her. He's so focused on what he's doing that he seemingly doesn't even realize that he walks all over her, if he does, it's only because he doesn't see anything wrong with that, which is, of course, the problem.
There's also a lot being said about the relationship between an artist, their art, and the audience. Although, in this case the director seems less inclined to point a finger, than paint the whole thing with the same brush. Darren Aronofsky has little love for the way an audience can feel entitled to the hard work of an artist, never mind their feelings of entitlement to the artist themselves. The mass of characters we meet later in the film feel like what would happen if Twitter became sentient. At the same time, the artist here isn't exactly painted as a perfect specimen, either. He's just as obsessed with providing material for his audience to fawn over as they are to consume it, and that obsession is just as bad, if not worse. Ultimately, nobody is free of blame.
Mother! is going to be a divisive movie, to say the least. Some will love the artistic risks, while others will absolutely loathe the disjointed and gruesome final product. I can't really argue with either perspective. I didn't enjoy the film, but it seems clear you're not supposed to. At the same time, I can't say mother! hasn't intrigued me and been on my mind nearly constantly since I've seen it. Mother! is truly an unforgettable film, that seems to go without saying. Whether or not that's a good thing is an entirely separate question.
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