As hotly debated as Darren Aronofsky’s newest film is, one thing is for sure: the movie advertised is not the movie delivered. The director’s uniquely titled film, mother!, does not offer what its marketing depicted.
Those expecting a horror film full of blood and terror, as shown in trailers, will leave disappointed, or, at the very least, confused for a significant portion of the film, waiting to see the movie for which they paid. mother! is significantly stranger than it seems.
In a house in the country, a woman fixes up her husband’s childhood home, while the latter attempts to write, only to stare at blank pages.
The two are played by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem and their characters are named mother and Him, respectively, though these appellations are never used in the film.
Soon, two others, named man and woman, join the two, and are welcomed by Him, but not by mother. The two visitors bring more people and the house fills, before reaching a new level of bizarreness.
What first strikes viewers as strange is the film’s cinematography. Aronofsky’s camera mostly eschews the formal language of film shots, with close-ups, mid-shots and wide angles used varyingly.
Instead, the film focuses almost entirely on Lawrence. It follows her, circles and leads the way, pointing at her for a majority of the film’s runtime. The result is claustrophobic, as the viewer is not watching mother!, so much as they are watching the film endlessly transpire around Lawrence.
Discomfort comes in the way of sound as well. Every sound effect, from the shuffle of feet on dusty floors to the scrape of a paint trowel on the wall, is loudly placed within the film’s soundtrack. The house is in the process of being rebuilt and is full of creaks. Each amplified sound acts as dissonance in a potentially idyllic country.
When man and woman come to the house, mother is hesitant to allow these strangers into her home. Her husband welcomes them in anyway, ignoring her wishes, assuming she is fine with the idea.
The film is littered with neglectful and uncaring assumptions. In each situation, whether mother is asking people to leave, listen to her, stop fighting or get off the unsecured kitchen sink, her words are met with scorn, derision or apathy.
She keeps pushing and pushing, hoping someone would listen, wishing somebody would care.
A powerful force pushing back against mother comes in the form of Michelle Pfeiffer, who plays woman with a wonderful derision. She asks to use the washing machine and tosses out the wet clothes onto the floor. Pfeiffer speaks patronizingly about mother’s marriage, poking at the fact that the latter has never had children.
Whenever woman causes trouble with her husband, she acts like the blame is all on mother. When she thanks Him for his hospitality, she looks at mother with cruelty in her eyes, as if signaling that she is a force that cannot be reckoned with.
Since there are a tremendous amount of movies available to watch at any given time, there are different methods of rating and ranking them. One in particular, CinemaScore, is based on opening-night crowds that were asked what they thought of the movie they attended, which gets graded on a letter scale from A to F. mother! got an F. Low ratings may be doled out to good movies when they do not match the expectations of their audiences, and to discuss what mother! was really about, one must dive into the territory of spoilers.
The biggest clue comes by way of the credits. In biblical tradition, the pronoun for God is “Him.” The only capitalized name in the credits is Bardem’s character, Him. Other characters include bumbler, philanderer, abettor, plunderer, aesthete, herald and devotee. The titles sound biblical in their focus on the role of each character.
At the beginning of the film, mother tells Him, “I wanna make a paradise,” and near the end she says that she will “get started on the apocalypse.”
mother! is the start-to-finish Christian tale of existence occurring within a single home. It begins with man and woman coming into paradise, proceeds through brother killing brother and a child being born between mother and Him, ending in a fiery blaze of destruction.
Nowhere in the horror-style trailers is there an indication of the biblical nature of this film. Even the cinematography is made to look normal.
Before the U.S. premiere of mother!, Aronofsky apologized for the movie he made. He said that he “attacked [his] computer and vomited” on the audience, proclaiming “unleash it!” to open the film.
For a significant portion of the film, mother! is just something tense and uncomfortable, waiting for a release, but by the time it eventually reaches the apocalyptic craze that is its finale, the weight of the moment is lost.
Aronofsky plays around too long and stretches out the rest of the film to the point where the reveal is lackluster.
There is certainly something to appreciate in mother!, but it is hard to find. For two hours, viewers circle around Lawrence, feeling the trepidation of not belonging and not being heard. The film, however, is too insistent on its subtext to be of much interest.
Instead, one wonders why they did not get to see the type of film the trailers made it out to be.