Him. Mother. Man. Woman. When those are the identifiers of the four main characters (none have a real name), one might assume that the filmmaker is lazy. However, after watching Mother!, the latest from the psycho-creative force known as Darren Aronofsky, we understand that names weren’t necessary, and even if they had been, he was probably too mentally exhausted from finding ways to torture those characters and confound us, the viewers.
The first half of the film is discomforting and creepy, while the second half is downright deranged. You won’t find many story details in this review, as the fun is in the shock. Most of the film is through the eyes of Jennifer Lawrence, and we share her confusion and disoriented state. She’s married to a famous poet played by Javier Bardem (yes, the age difference is acknowledged). While she spends her days refurbishing their stunning country home, he battles severe writer’s block (The Shining, anyone?!). Needless to say, their domestic bliss goes wrong…but it’s not a kind of wrong we’ve ever seen before.
Aronofsky and cinematographer Matthew Libatique (both Oscar nominees) confine us in excruciatingly tight shots resulting in further disorientation and claustrophobia through most of the film. By the time we get a single wide shot of the home’s exterior, we’ve just about given up hope.
Once Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer show up, we kick into full Rosemary’s Baby mode…only more frenetic and hyper.
It should be noted that it’s not a traditional horror film – heck, it’s hardly a traditional film at all. It’s built on confusion & metaphors abound. Aronofsky seems intent on causing endless post-viewing discussions and debate over “what it means.” A case can be made for commentary on ego, fame, Mother Nature, deity/religion, and a sign of the times – the entitled “takers” of the world. The most obvious explanation is that the price paid for creativity is quite dear, and often causes a release from reality. There’s a vicious cycle occurring here and our realization happens after the crescendo of insanity that is the film’s peak.
There are too many WTF moments to count and Ms. Lawrence pulls off what has to be the roughest onscreen pregnancy we’ve seen. It’s a real treat to see Michelle Pfeiffer back in form after being out of the spotlight for four years. The score from Johan Johannsson is remarkable and there are ground-breaking visual effects (easy to miss during the audacious, frenzied second half action). Aronofsky is clearly provoking us, though it’s abundantly unclear to what end. His previous twisted, mind-benders include Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan seem like mainstream family fare in comparison. This is a love it or hate it project, and most will likely fall into the latter… But for those who embrace the deranged and audacious, the love will be everlasting.