Movie review: “mother!”

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Sean W. Cooper, Assistant Opinion Editor

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Rarely do I ever go to see a movie twice at the theater. I’ve done it twice in my life: for “Gone Girl” in 2014 and for “Love & Mercy” in 2015. I’m tempted to do it again for “mother!” — not because I loved it that much (although I certainly did), but because I am eager to capture a better understanding of it.
 
Director Darren Aronofsky has always handled his characters with intense psychological introspection. Dare I say that this is his area of expertise. Nearly everything he has made, from “Requiem for a Dream” (2000) to “Black Swan” (2010), has the power to hit the audience at a deep cognitive level. What makes him a great filmmaker is that his films are thoroughly disturbing but also impossible to stop watching.
 
Aronofsky faltered on this with “Noah” (2014), which was more of a glamorous Hollywood spectacle than a striking psychological thriller. However, to say he is back on track with “mother!” is an understatement at best.
 
In “mother!,” Him (Javier Bardem) is an acclaimed poet who has moved with his wife, Mother (Jennifer Lawrence), to a secluded house in the woods. He believes this will help him overcome his current writer’s block. Meanwhile, the pressure Him is facing has begun to rub off on Mother, who has begun to hallucinate, as well as develop cabin fever when she is alone in the house.
 
One day, Man (Ed Harris) turns up at the door thinking it is a bed and breakfast. Despite Mother’s wishes, Him invites Man in to stay. Little do they know that Man will end up bringing many unwelcome guests into their residence. After realizing that Mother is starting to go crazy and that Man has broken one of his prized possessions, Him kicks everybody out.
 
The morning after, Mother announces that she is pregnant. This news helps Him to begin writing, and within seconds, his newest work is not only completed but also published. Moments later, fans are bursting into the house — but these are no ordinary fans.
 
If only there was more to say about the story without giving away spoilers. “Mother!” initially utilizes a slow-moving pace to reel us in and acquaint us with the characters, and then breaks free into total a world of total chaos during its final third. The dreamlike setting, heavily reminiscent of David Lynch’s classic film “Eraserhead,” quickly turns into a nightmare.
 
On paper, things start seeming exponentially less plausible. Events that would realistically take months to unfold happen over the course of a single day in this final act. However, Aronofsky brilliantly takes advantage of suspension of disbelief by keeping us grounded in the realistic setting that the first two-thirds of the film have established, making everything seem almost uncannily plausible.
 
Aronofsky has taken a simple story and turned it into a surreal and sometimes allegorical cautionary tale.  The message here seems so simple but rings true with the viewer nonetheless: Don’t let strangers into your house.  We are able to feel the severity of this lesson through the performances of Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence that anchor the film.
 
We are also locked in the clutch of this experience by the technical aspects of the film.  Matthew Libatique’s looming cinematography is a driving force for the film, as is the lack of a score.  The dead silence of the film other than dialogue adds to the tension immensely.
 
“Mother!” certainly isn’t for everybody; it’s violent, it’s creepy, and it moves slowly, but that’s the point, and in achieving that, it’s extraordinary. This film is where entertainment and art meet. In the modern age, we rarely see horror movies that are genuinely well-made, let alone original — but this is one of them.