A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.
At one point during the press screening I attended for Mother! A fellow reviewer left the theater, muttering as she marched up the aisle to my left. I however, stayed riveted in my seat fully invested in the ride I was taking. This is a perfect way to illustrate the effect that Aronofsky’s new film is likely to have on today’s moviegoing public. A heady metaphorical fever dream on God, creation, and what is sacrificed in his insatiable craving for adoration, Mother! Is a triple shot of straight Darren Aronofsky auteur filmmaking that will give his fans more reason to love him and repel those looking for conventional fare.
The film begins with a woman, Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) waking from a deep slumber. She is alone in a massive bed, wrapped in white linens, the sun beaming through the large window in the room. She springs to life and sits up. Alone in the mansion she makes her way down, exploring the vast dwelling. With each step Lawrence takes, the floorboards creak under her nimble figure. Quiet, calm, and beautiful, Mother steps out to the porch to take in the new day.
A man, that we only come to know as Him (Javier Bardem) approaches her from behind attempting not to startle. The two are alone, in love, and living a peaceful existence. Him is a writer, a poet of sorts. The brooding artist, Him is suffering writer’s block and is struggling to find inspiration in the pastoral setting. Meanwhile Mother is painstakingly working on their home. Connected on a very primal level, Mother occasionally places her palm on the walls and can sense the very pulse of their dwelling. Everything is calm, productive, tranquil. That is, until a Man (Ed Harris) shows up at their door.
Him invites the Man in without hesitation, much to the concern of Mother before quickly inviting the man to stay as a guest until he finds work in the area. Dutifully, Mother accommodates and is rewarded the next day with another guest when belligerent and bitchy Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives to stay with her husband. Mother tolerates her Him’s fascination with his new guests in an almost gratingly passive way. That is until things begin to get weird-er. Man and Woman burrow a place into the home. Then their bickering sons arrive. Mother’s increasing consternation is repeatedly dismissed by everyone and everything around her. Then shit really hits the fan. As if cranked to the pinnacle of a lift hill, we are plunged on a descent into a surreal roller coaster of symbolism and brutal insanity.
Populated by two Oscar winners and two Oscar nominees, the four leads are genuine perfection. They are wise enough to place their implicit trust in Aronofsky’s vision and his ability to pull it off. They shine because of it. Bardem’s Him is a flawed and menacing character that is addicted to being praised and loved. Harris does his usual creepy old guy thing, yet here it finds new smarminess. Lawrence is the heart and soul of the film, with the substantial presence to come off strong despite remaining so silent and non combative. The stand-out of the four leads is Pfeiffer with her bitchy-as-hell cougar slinking around half drunk and throwing non-stop shade at everything and everyone.
The technical aspects of the film brilliantly serve to enforce the story. Props to Director of Photography, Matthew Libatique for creating a visual rhythm that starts as a lilting entr’acte that builds to a gritty, and visceral climax. The sound design by Paula Fairfield’s is perfection lending character to the creaking home and its surrounding wilderness.
As a fan of absurdist cinema I suspended my disbelief and let the film play out before me. My advice is go with it. Don’t think, “oh this could never happen.” or “why don’t they just…” There is an inescapable fate to the proceedings that is at once tragic and comedic that you must accept and find deeper meaning in for it to be enjoyable.
With Mother! Aronofsky has created one of the most daring studio films of the year. An absurdist jaunt exploring creation, mankind, and the toll taken on the earth, we are lulled into a sense of normalcy with the almost mundane setup and the subtle mounting of tension until we realize things are totally off the rails. This is a usual thing for him as a filmmaker (see Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan). Aronofsky peers into the darkest recesses of human nature in order to find its brightest points of light.