Director – Darren Aronofsky
Cast – Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Brian Gleeson, Domhnall Gleeson
Release Year – 2017
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Since its release date two weeks ago, I have heard nothing but polarizing remarks about Mother! – Darren Aronofsky’s newest film. Friends of mine love it, and a few of them hate it, so I assumed I would find myself amongst my debaucherous brethren in enjoying this film. Truth be told, I hated the experience…at first. By the time the end credits rolled I was sitting in awe at what I had just witnessed. This wasn’t solely because it is a profound experience, albeit it is one. No, I was in awe due to the grand spectacle Aronofsky created. Your friends may seem like pompous assholes when they say “this isn’t for everyone”, but they are right. So who is Mother! for? I can’t even definitively answer that. All I know is I liked it.
Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence star as a married couple living a life of tranquility at a large isolated estate. Bardem’s character, credited as “Him”, is a once-esteemed and now struggling author, while Lawrence’s character, credited as “Her”, is a designer remodeling her husband’s home after a devastating fire. This life of tranquility provides all that this loving wife could need, until unexpected guests interrupt that bliss. The events that unfold at their arrival grow insidiously, leading to a maniacal climax no sane person would ever see coming.
I went into this film blind, having not seen a single trailer. All I knew was basically what I just wrote in the plot summary above. Because of this, I was able to experience the film raw, which is probably played a role in why I hated it at first. I had significantly more questions than answers, all of which came about when the first guests arrived at their home. Let me backtrack a bit though. To start, the film begins by establishing the couple’s relationship and most importantly, the wife’s relationship with the home. She is highly invested in the home and bringing it back to life after suffering damage from a fire that cost her husband everything. Now, when the guests arrive, her sacred abode is suddenly a portal for strangers to enter…and disrespect. Her husband’s actions make no sense during these scenes, as he seems to welcome them with open arms. As the film goes on you will begin to take notice to the wife’s place in the home, and how dismissive her husband is of her. Her wants, her needs, they are suddenly secondary to the attention he gets from complete strangers. This is compounded over and over again, growing in severity until a sudden peaceful calm is once again interrupted by the tremendous final act.
There will be more than meets the eye to this story. Aronofsky brings with him religious allegories that will eventually play out. They won’t be too obvious, and I myself did not catch them until the film’s final act. I will not spoil the film and its surprises, but let’s just say there are elements of creation and fertility at play.
Despite not personally enjoying the first two acts of the film, I was strangely addicted. It’s as if my subconscious knew the payoff would be worth the hassle. I also could not disregard that going in blind may have not worked in my favor this time around (it usually does). While annoyed, I was always intrigued. I wanted answers, and they were shoved in my face.
Aronofsky (Black Swan)’s direction is expert. He had to excel if he expected to keep the audience during each tumultuous act, and he did just that with great atmosphere, engaging camerawork, and flawless performances from all of his leads. Bardem and Lawrence are great, delivering love, elation, and despair. We see them transform through emotional extremes and they play at the hearts of men, women, husbands, and wives. Watching them interact felt so real, and unlike a movie. They aren’t alone here, as Ed Harris and Michelle Pfieffer also play prominent roles and do so with great esteem. With the story taking place entirely within the home for its two hour runtime, the atmosphere needed to be engaging. I enjoyed the look and feel of the old, large, and rustic farmhouse. During the movie I noticed quite a bit of film grain, which lead me to believe this wasn’t shot digitally. As it turns out, Aronofsky chose to shoot this in 16mm film, which played perfectly into setting the atmosphere with the home. There is no musical score, with the only music you hear coming from the characters. This lack of music made the sounds of the home more effective, and aided in making certain characters feel more alone.
Going into this flick I had only one major question: how is it a horror film? I saw it labeled as such, alongside drama and thriller tags, and it has always been reviewed on horror websites (which I did not read). Well, I must say that while this is not a devoutly horror film, it sure does have elements of horror. You will experience vibes of Rosemary’s Baby as there is an obvious element of psychological horror. However, Aronofsky delivers tangible horror during the film’s final sequence, and to a level I never would have expected. This is an experience where the “payoff” really does buck you in the jaw, and I can see this being a love/hate, unsettling sequence for the majority of viewers.
Overall, Mother! is a fantastic experience unlike any other I have witnessed in quite some time. I think the last time I felt this way was when I saw Antichrist back in 2009. It is expertly written and directed, with personal preference really being the only thing up for debate here. You will love it or hate it, and even if you love it….you’ll probably feel sick for saying so.
ALL NAMES, TRADEMARKS AND IMAGES ARE COPYRIGHT THEIR RESPECTIVE OWNERS.