mother! Review

mother! movie review

*NOTE: I believe this film is best enjoyed without knowing much at all going in. I avoided any heavy spoilers in this review, but still, if you haven’t seen mother!, proceed with caution.

The insanity-by-obsession that defines every Darren Aronofsky film to date — from Ellen Burstyn’s tragic television watching in Requiem for a Dream to Russell Crowe’s maddening doubt in Noah — is similarly present in his latest, mother!. It’s also fundamental to the film’s emotional impact, but it plays out much differently than in previous iterations.

Obsession is a part of mother!, but because the film is much less personal — more a timeless stream of consciousness than something linear and familiar — it’s pushed beneath the surface. While the events of mother! transpire, it’s fair to say most viewers will be preoccupied trying to grasp the righteous fuckery of what’s happening. Themes and motivations are secondary, but that’s among the film’s chief pleasures.

I love this movie with every fiber of my being, but it’s hard to outline why. Let’s try.

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The film examines the lives of and relationship between a man (Javier Bardem) and woman (Jennifer Lawrence). They go unnamed, and we learn very little about them that would fit into a Facebook profile, but what’s clear from scene one is that she adores him, and he tolerates her.

They live together in an enormous house in the middle of the woods, which is why the late-night arrival of a traveling surgeon (Ed Harris) is especially strange. He thought the place was a bed and breakfast. It’s not, but Bardem opens his home to this man for as long as he needs.

When his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) joins them, Lawrence starts to feel very uncomfortable. They treat the house — her baby, essentially — like a cheap hotel room. Pfeiffer pries into their sexual life. And worst of all, they shatter Bardem’s most prized possession — a gem that glows with the embers of the fire that destroyed the house he lived in earlier in his life.

An unsettling and darkly funny (but still rather sedate) chamber play eventually gives way to something perverse, allegorical, and genuinely insane. I went into mother! hearing that it was one of the wildest studio movies ever made. I think those who made that claim still undersold it.

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The allegories tread territory that’s biblical and pro-environment — which means Noah is its closest cousin within Aronofsky’s filmography — but what’s special about this film is the way Aronofsky leaves everything open-ended enough to let you paint your own picture about what it all means. There’s a reason we don’t know much about these people, including their names. There’s a reason we don’t know where they live or how they afford to keep up this spectacular house. Hell, there’s a reason one of the first scenes shows us Lawrence’s character figuring out the right color to paint her blank canvas of a wall. (She goes with “batshit crazy gold,” it seems.)

The film’s obtuse style takes its thematic open-endedness even further. So much of mother! is shot in extreme close-up, which forces us to focus on a particular scene’s immediacy, rather than its cosmic importance. There’s no sense of time. The entire film feels like that Ron Burgundy meme — its tagline most definitely could have been “Boy, that escalated quickly.”

Jennifer Lawrence has never been better. In so many previous films, she plays characters trying desperately to repress their most manic side. In mother!, Aronofsky asks her to dial it up to 11, which I think plays to her strengths as an actress. While most audiences will certainly be turned off by the film’s unusual ways, those who appreciate its one-of-a-kind charms will be screaming along with her — trying to muster up the courage to act. When she does, it’s an emotional release like I can’t remember in a theater.

Javier Bardem has been better, but Anton Chigurh is an all-timer. While he might seem like an odd fit for this film considering his and Lawrence’s age difference, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in his role (and it makes a lot more sense once you understand the entirety of the story Aronofsky is telling). Harris and Pfeiffer are excellent in their respective supporting turns.

I walked out of mother! wondering if I really thought it worked. In the 72 hours since, it’s only grown in my estimation to the point that it’s both a lock for my end-of-year top 10 and probably my second favorite Aronofsky film. (Requiem will always be hard to top for me.) It’s hard to stop thinking about this movie. I understand the criticism, but it’s so much more interesting than anything else I’ve seen or likely will see maybe for the entire decade.

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