By: BabyRuth (Three Beers) –
Earlier this year, I reviewed Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness, an odd, fever-dream of a movie. Despite having some issues with it, I appreciated the fact that a film so strange, so polarizing, and so non-mainstream managed to get a wide theatrical release, let alone made at all. I was certain it would be the most bizarre movie-going experience of the year for me.
Well, along comes Darren Aronofsky to give Verbinski and anyone else who dares all the beers to hold with mother!
It’s almost impossible to explain the plot without going into spoilers, and judging by the ultra-secretive lead-up (attendees at advance screenings were asked to sign nondisclosure agreements) and possibly intentionally misleading marketing campaign (while parts are certainly horrific, this is no cut and dry horror flick), Aronofsky surely felt that the less known going into the film, the better.
Though most who are reading this at the time of its posting will likely have heard some plot points by now (one in particular I’m sure) as the film has been out for a couple days, I still will try to avoid going into too much detail.
Jennifer Lawrence stars as the titular character, who like every other person in this film, is never referred to by a proper name. She lives with her much older husband, a famous poet, “Him” (Javier Bardem), in a large secluded farmhouse. The home is so isolated, there are no roads leading to it or even a driveway. mother spends her days renovating the massive house while He attempts to overcome a case of writer’s block and create his next masterpiece. Though their life appears idyllic, something seems off. Maybe it’s the house, which has a beating heart and bleeds. Or maybe it’s just because they don’t have a TV. Yeah, definitely that. Don’t you just hate those pretentious assholes who are all “I don’t own a TV?”
Their quiet existence is challenged when one day out of the blue, there is a knock on the door. It’s a doctor (Ed Harris) who claims to have mistaken the estate for a bed and breakfast. He (Bardem’s character) invites the man in to stay the night, despite mother’s concerns. The next day the doctor’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up, then their two sons (Brian and Domhnall Gleeson), then, well, this is where I will stop. Let’s just say things escalate from there.
Basically this. But not really. But still, someone please make a mash-up trailer of this and mother!
I’ve been hearing a lot of “people are either going to really love mother! or really hate it.” I agree with that statement, though I believe there is a large third group who aren’t exactly sure how they feel about it.
I am firmly in that camp and I would imagine I have as much company in it as our mother! homeowners do judging by the reaction of the audience at the screening I attended. Many people just sat in silence staring at the screen as the credits rolled. Several burst into laughter, similar to the release after a roller coaster ride, which is fitting because “roller coaster ride” is the best way to describe this film. It is most certainly an experience. And every person is going to have a different one.
But it is an experience one won’t forget anytime soon. I have not stopped thinking about mother! since I saw it. My feelings on it keep changing (making this review particularly difficult to write). I will definitely revisit it at some point.
The look of mother! is signature Aronofsky: extreme close-ups (Observation: Lawrence does not have one pore on her face), over-the-shoulder tracking shots, and shaky handheld cameras. Aronosky knows how to create unbearable tension and this is no exception.
The cast is excellent. The events of the film are shown from Jennifer Lawrence’s character’s perspective and she is in nearly every shot. She has little dialogue but delivers one hell of a performance. Likewise, Javier Bardem puts on a master class in intense glaring.
But it is Michelle Pfeiffer who nearly steals the entire film. She is GLORIOUS: fierce, funny (often providing some much needed, but fleeting, comic relief), and divinely wicked. What I’m saying is, give this woman the Best Supporting Actress Oscar right now.
I’d advise anyone planning to see mother! to do so soon, in a theater, because the sound design adds so much to the overall experience. Every creak of the house, every footstep in the distance, is not only heard, but felt. It’s incredible.
This film is not for everybody. That should go without saying concerning Aronofsky, but even those familiar with his work may find mother! a challenging watch.
The first half is a dread-soaked, slow burn of a build. Some may even use the word boring to describe it. It’s almost as if Aronofsky is toying with his audience, daring us to want something to happen.
And then it does.
And it’s insane.
Not one to shy away from disturbing imagery (Requiem for a Dream still makes me feel physically ill when I think about it – and I watched it once, over a decade ago. I never want to see it again. I mean that in the best way.), Aronofsky amps it up to a level so unsettling, so unexpected, and so utterly batshit crazy, that it may be too much for many to sit through. There were a few walkouts at my screening, my own husband being one of them (“That’s it for me, see you outside,” he whispered about ten minutes before the ending. After the film I found him giving the poor elderly usher an earful of how awful he found the film. Needless to say, the short ride home felt like an eternity.) I have a feeling this is going to be a pretty common occurrence throughout theaters this weekend. I can understand, again, it’s an extremely hard watch. But for those who hang in there, the climactic sequence is one hell of a piece of film-making that needs to be seen to be believed.
The film is an allegory filled with countless metaphors. Many are so transparent I’d hesitate to even refer to them as metaphors (Aronofsky is not exactly known for his subtlety).
Here’s my metaphor for mother!: It’s a puzzle that halfway through solving, you realize contains pieces from several other puzzles mixed in and there is no way to put them all together.
My question is, what is the takeaway after what is being represented is established? What is the point? Is there a point? How does it all fit together?
Of course there’s the whole “everyone can interpret it in their own way and draw their own conclusions” thing, but that explanation feels like a copout in this instance. I personally feel Aronofsky had so many themes he wanted to explore (Religion! The environment! Sexism! The artist’s struggle! The cult of celebrity! Humans are garbage! God is garbage! Sorry Rachel Weisz! Sorry in advance Jennifer Lawrence!), and refused to kill any of his darlings (*wink*) so he threw them all in, along with a literal kitchen sink, whether they worked cohesively or not, and then never bothered to develop them past a certain point. They are just there, for us to figure out and debate. Again, it’s super hard to go into without revealing too much (though I feel like I just sort of did) As a result, the film is as crowded as the house it’s set in. And that frustrated me, especially after being put through the emotional wringer watching America’s sweetheart endure nightmare after nightmare only to reach an open (and predictable) conclusion. But that was most likely the intention.
Still, as a fan of Aronofsky, I would have preferred the two main themes been split into two separate, companion films (as in the case of The Wrestler and Black Swan) and with a clear focus on each, instead of mother!’s manically trying to force the misfitting puzzle pieces together.
While not for the squeamish, I applaud Aronofsky’s ambition to make a film so unlike anything else that it will divide and even anger audiences. That it surely will do, along with inspiring countless conversations and heated debates. In this current age of sequels, reboots, franchises, and lazy comedies, it’s about damn time there was a film like this. However, for me it was a little too much style over substance as far as THE BIG SECRET MESSAGE.
Even if you don’t go to see it, if you happen to find yourself in a movie theater in the near future, I highly recommend standing outside a screening of mother! that has just let out to watch the reactions, because while I don’t feel “entertaining” is the correct term to describe mother! itself, that part of the overall experience most certainly was.
mother! (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever mother drinks that yellow stuff (What IS that stuff? If anyone knows, please let me know)
Take a Drink: whenever mother says “Excuse me,” “What are you doing?” or “Get out!”
Take a Drink: for every knock on the door
Take a Drink: for every (amazing) Michelle Pfeiffer bitchface
Take a Drink: every time mother pleads for people to get off the kitchen sink
Do a Shot: random, unexpected cameo (you’ll know when)
Do all the Shots: during the last half hour