I can’t get Mother! out of my head.
A full 12 hours after leaving the theater and the imagery of Darren Aronofsky’s over the top yet boldly provocative new film is seared into my cerebellum, like a strange visitor that won’t get out of my house.
Strange visitors, odd husbands, and bizarre activity flood the plot of this original yet maddening movie. The audience meets our unnamed heroine (Jennifer Lawrence) in a large and mostly empty home in the middle of nowhere, a tranquil existence set up with her husband (Javier Bardem), who happens to be a famous poet. With her husband experiencing writer’s block and her mind busy decorating their new home, a series of strange events befalls the couple, starting with the arrival of unannounced guests in a man (Ed Harris) and woman (Michelle Pfeiffer).
Right off the jump, Mother! establishes an eerily proposition with the audience which is quite blunt: follow me down the rabbit hole as far as you can. The director layers the suspense and shock throughout the two hour running time wisely, slowly turning up the crazy one twist at a time.
Lawrence starts experiencing an odd pattern of chest pains while slowing unveiling areas of the house that creep her out, while her husband broods his way around the estate. As she makes desperate attempts to recover sanity, odd and uncontrollable things start to happen. Harris’ man gets sick, more people show up, and a peaceful life is upended. Throughout the film, Lawrence is the driver for the the audience’s point of view, noticing things and reacting to them like we would. She’s the innocent soul in a sea of madness.
That’s all I am going to say about the revealations in this film, because 99 percent of the enjoyment of this film is knowing as little as possible about the final 45 minutes. Let’s just say things get bad. Whatever variety of “bad you have in your head, triple it.
But what kind of life did these two people have exactly? Aronofsky doesn’t waste a lot of time in flooding your suspicions with a boatload of theories. Is Bardem’s poet conspiring with these strangers? Does the origin of a mysterious diamond have a different past than the one Bardem is telling? Most importantly, why do people keep showing up?
This is a bold film that will turn several people off. When the film reaches the third and final act, you will have three ideas forming in your head: get up and leave, stay the course, or lean forward and soak it up. I love when a filmmaker aims to make something that no other director could possibly fathom. That’s credibility in a director; someone wanting to provide a repetitive project filled game with something shocking and wild. Aronofsky has shown with Requiem For a Dream and The Fountain that he doesn’t mind having the playground all to himself.
The filmmaker is also sneaking in a commentary about society as a whole. Our need to feel loved and what we will do in order to capture it-or at least be close to it. It’s not just shock and awe with Mother!; Aronofsky wants to send a message about the depravity of the human hunger.
Mother! is quite disturbing, taking a prideful glee in turning your stomachs, instead of apologizing for the experience. When directors stay true and loyal to the characters they’ve presented instead of making the audience feel better, great films happen.
You won’t experience a more unsettling yet brilliant final 20 minutes of a movie this year. Or next year. Mother! goes where few films have gone before, dialing up the tension with a scene involving a baby and a straight beatdown.
Lawrence is very good here. Mother! needed a true female star to make the plot developments extra shocking. Sure, Jessica Chastain or Mila Kunis could have played the young wife role, but Lawrence’s wicked combination of talent and star power gives this film that extra shot of cinematic espresso that it needed.
Bardem has played a legion of creepy dudes with vendettas in his career, and he finds a way to ground the husband, keeping the audience from fully turning on him. You may wonder from time to time if Lawrence’s wife is overreacting. Bardem’s skill does that.
Harris and Pfeiffer acquit themselves well in small roles while the Gleeson brothers show up in rousing fashion, but this film belongs to Aronofsky and his new muse (and real life girlfriend), Lawrence.
She is impressive as a woman slowly losing her mind and wondering if her husband cares more about his popularity than her love. Without slamming us over the head with it, Aronofsky plunges into the idea of artists valuing superficial idealism over true love. In order to make that connection, you need a great actress, and Lawrence is up to the task. If not for her, the final 20 minutes is just noise.
See Mother! if you want something different and shocking at the movies. If you know Aronofsky’s film history, this film shouldn’t surprise you that much. Just know that it won’t leave your head for a while and the end will leave open a door for healthy discussion afterwards.
Make no mistake, though. Mother! is a bizarre film that pushes the envelope with a smile on its face. It is genre-less and bolder than most films you’ll find. Darren Aronofsky deserves credit for leaning into the extreme and not caring one bit about the audience’s feelings. You can make me feel uncomfortable as long as you know what you are doing.
Just don’t expect to leave this film happy. Mother! is something else.