If Eugene Ionesco or Samuel Beckett, your surrealist playwright of choice, were alive and working in Hollywood today I imagine the fever dream which is mother! is the sort of thing they’d come up with. mother! is the latest offering from Darren Aronofsky the writer/director who gave us Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream, and The Fountain, among quite a few others. mother! combines his obsession with the artistic process with his proficiency for creating images which are at once disturbing and beautiful and his penchant for creating an experience for the movie viewer more so than telling a story.
The prominent cast members of mother! are Jennifer Lawrence as mother, Javier Bardem as Him, Ed Harris as man, and Michelle Pfeiffer as woman. The cast is impressive, and they do an excellent job for the most part, but what I wanted to point out here is the fact that no one in mother! has a name. It’s one of many factors which make the film such a dreamlike experience, one of the many factors which make for an experience which is always on the border of being familiar, but never comes close to being intimate.
mother! is a nearly impossible film to discuss on anything but a sheerly technical level without giving away spoilers, so past this I’m not really going to try, but it’s a film that is steeped in metaphor and in which the story such as it is is really only there to rope you in and give you a framework to start you on your journey into the nightmare which the movie ultimately ends up being. No one has a name, yet you know who everyone is. Everyone but you and Jennifer Lawrence seem to understand perfectly what is happening, but you and your anchor in this world are lost, scared, and confused. It’s more dream than movie, and like a dream, mother!‘s purpose is to send you a message which is anything but obvious.
The performances in mother! aren’t going to win any awards, but they are what we’ve come to expect from a crew of veterans, and its especially nice to see Jennifer Lawrence return to form after the dreck she gave us in 2016. Michelle Pfeiffer is the real standout among the main cast, in my opinion, giving us a performance brave enough that I’d wished she’d been playing roles like this for more of her career. Javier Bardem and Ed Harris are more foils and excuses to move the action along than actual characters, but both perform this job admirably enough that you don’t notice that fact at all while the story is unfolding.
The true draw for this movie, though, is the combination of sights and sounds which are at once gorgeous and disturbing, breathtaking and mundane. The camera frames each shot in a way which is both practical and artistic, making the feel of a dream which Aronofsky so obviously is striving for making sure we are looking exactly where he wants us to be, but still unsure of exactly what it is what we’re seeing except that whatever it is is fascinating. The combination of sounds and art direction add so much the proceedings and transform the house all the action takes place within into another character, and a character that in many ways is more important and more developed than the people living inside of it.
So, what kind of movie is mother! aside from an artsy one? It’s closest to a horror film in that it is disturbing, creepy, and bewildering, but it’s goal is to unsettle more so than to scare. What it primarily is, is a message to unravel, a puzzle to take apart. It’s unclear if Aronofsky had one theme in mind, but I saw messages about immigration, fame, the process of creating art, environmental concerns, and others. mother! is an art house film that somehow got a major release, and I really hope it gets the audience it deserves.
Final verdict: mother! is a difficult film, but it’s one worth unraveling. It’s the act of unraveling, in fact, which makes mother! so fascinating. To anyone who thinks dream interpretation is a good time, you will love mother! To others, mother! is a hard movie to recommend, not that I don’t recommend, just that what you get out of mother! is going to depend an awful lot on what you’re willing to put into it. If you want to turn off your brain, relax, and just let entertainment come to you when you see a film, avoid mother! like the plague. If you want to actively engage with a film, sifting through its sights and sounds for meaning like a detective ferreting out clues at a crime scene, and if you don’t mind or even enjoy more a film which practically demands more than one viewing to take everything in, than mother! is exactly what you’ve been looking for. I know I definitely plan on taking it again when I can.