Darren Aronofsky’s mother! may leave you woozy, bewildered, and exhilarated and sometimes all within the same minute. It’s a film that many will despise for taking its Hollywood stars down this rabbit hole of Biblical allegories and celebrity culture mockery. Yet I’ll be damned if it wasn’t an experience to often behold, albeit not on the level as some of the director’s best works.
mother is Jennifer Lawrence, who lives in a remote sprawling home with her older husband who is known as Him (Javier Bardem). He’s a famous and acclaimed poet suffering from an acute case of writer’s block. She fills her days renovating their dwelling which we learned recently burned to the ground.
Their quiet existence is interrupted when a stranger known as man (Ed Harris) shows up at their door, claiming he thought the house was a bed and breakfast. mother’s natural and understandable instinct is to send him on his way. Him curiously invites him to stay. Shortly after, his wife credited as woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives. She’s a prying firecracker who rubs mother the wrong away while her husband’s health issues come to light. Their two sons join the joyless party as well and that’s when some tragic results occur. If you’ve noted I’m not saying the names of the characters, it’s for a reason. They don’t have them.
It’s a bit of a chore to discuss mother! without venturing into major spoiler territory. I’ll say this – their family drama has an ending. When Him and mother finally get the place to themselves again, she becomes pregnant and we flash forward to her due date approaching. This is when more people turn up. Lots of them.
What transpires after gives us multiple instances of WTF moments that also showcase Aronofsky’s remarkable visual style behind the camera. He’s a filmmaker unafraid to tackle religious themes (Noah was his previous effort) and mother! certainly bludgeons us with them. It also has plenty to say about fame and those who follow famous people, well, religiously.
By the time Him and mother’s “houseguests” number on the scale of innumerable, I found myself staring at the screen in disbelief at some of what’s onscreen. Part of this may be because a major studio clearly let their writer/director do whatever he wanted here. Another reason is Aronofsky’s technical skill at shooting what occurs within the home’s walls.
Lawrence often represents the audience here. She’s as confused as we are with her husband’s eagerness to welcome others in. In a typical horror flick (especially those of the haunted house variety), you’d be screaming for her to just get the hell out. You may do that here, but credit Aronofsky for going out of his way to explain why she doesn’t.
Black Swan, which stands at the director’s best along with Requiem for a Dream, shares certain themes. A drive for artistic perfection no matter the cost is a trait shared by Natalie Portman in her Oscar winning role and the character of Him. It takes us to even darker places here, but it didn’t leave me as satisfied as Swan. That one got Aronofsky awfully close to cinematic perfection. mother! doesn’t leave that kind of impression overall, but its scenes of expertly made depravity should leave his fans enthralled while it’s happening.
*** (out of four)