Love or hate writer/director Darren Aronofsky (Noah, Black Swan), there's no denying his visions are bold and unique. In an era of cinema bursting at the seams with unoriginality, Aronofsky consistently stands apart from conventional studio storytelling. In many cases, it's a minor miracle that studios even throw bank in his direction, knowing the return on the investment might not pan out.
In his latest, mother!, perhaps his most daring film to date, he unleashes a cacophony of sight and sound unlike anything seen on screen in a long time, if ever. It's a film that revels in its audaciousness. But, is mother! another feather in the cap for Aronofsky, or are the legions of casual moviegoers spouting outrage over the content (the film holds a rare Cinemascore of F), causing some to walk out of theaters, correct in their assessment?
Honestly? A little of both.
The Set Up
A struggling writer (Javier Bardem) lives peacefully in a remote country house with his wife (Jennifer Lawrence). When a strange man (Ed Harris) and his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) show up unexpectedly, disrupting the tranquil nature of the home, the relationship between the couple becomes strained amidst a growing number of odd occurrences that climax into events of disturbing and ridiculous absurdities.
What I Liked
- Aronofsky is a brilliant visual stylist. Regardless of your opinion of his stories, it's hard to question that his films look gorgeous. mother! is no exception. Good thing too, as the film basically forgoes a soundtrack, instead allowing the audience to hear every creak and clang within the house. His close-up style and soft color palette give a sense of claustrophobia, forcing us to witness this lunacy up close and personal.
- Being a non-religious person, I found myself able to easily digest the narrative through a secular lens. One in which a person of faith probably struggled with. Nothing in my beliefs was being challenged here, but I can understand the reactions of those that felt betrayed by the choices the film made in telling the story. Basically, mother! is Aronofsky's interpretation of the Book of Genesis, heavily seasoned with metaphor and allegory, and that was going to piss a number of people off.
- Michelle Pfeiffer is on her game. I didn't have any wholesale issues with any of the cast (more on Jennifer Lawrence in a minute), but Pfeiffer really stands out. There is a prickliness to her character that dares to be challenged by those around her.
- I was sold with Aronofsky's grand vision. Again, as someone who has no horse in the race when it comes to religious faith, it was easy for me to maneuver through all of the metaphor and reconcile with the insanity of how Aronofsky went for it. This is a film that will challenge, both narratively and viscerally. Its ambition should be lauded, regardless of your overall opinion of the film, and it's guaranteed to garner a reaction one way or the other. Moviegoers have begged for something original and different. Aronofsky, if nothing else, delivers on that.
What I Didn't Like
- I am an unapologetic fan of pretty much whatever Jennifer Lawrence does. I think she's one of the best young actresses working today. But, there are some roles she takes that I struggle to believe in her character. This is one of those roles. Much like how I struggled with her as Christian Bale's wife in American Hustle, I'm finding it tough to convince myself she'd be in a loving relationship with Javier Bardem. In both these cases, the clear age gap is distracting. She's playing characters that just seem too far out of reach for her age. She sells it best as she can, screaming and hyperventilating at all the right moments, but I think this role might have been better served with a slightly older actress. It sometimes felt more father/daughter than husband/wife. Of course, in the context of the film, perhaps that was deliberate.
- Speaking of distracting, Kristen Wiig comes out of nowhere for a cameo in a scene you would not expect from Kristen Wiig. As bonkers as everything is on screen, the site of Wiig takes you out of it for a few moments. I've enjoyed some of Wiig's dramatic roles, but let's face it, she's typecast as a comedienne, and it was difficult to remove that filter here in a film that is decidedly NOT comedy.
- Some of the concepts in the film were a bit confusing (yellow powder anyone), and that may be due to my lack of being well versed in the verses, but I did have to do some reading up after the fact in order to make some of the connections. That isn't really the complete fault of the filmmaker, but some of the metaphors were a bit more confusing than some others that punched you right in the face in their obviousness. There is a lot to unpack here, and your knowledge of the faith can be your ally or your enemy.
- As batshit off the rails as this film gets in the final act, it suffers from some pacing problems early on. The film drags a bit, and when you know everything goes to Hell at some point, that wait can be interminable. Add in the struggle I had with the Lawrence/Bardem coupling, and I did get a little restless from time to time.
mother! is unlike anything you typically see coming from a mainstream studio release. Taking on this sort of content, especially in this manner, was going to hit certain people in certain ways. This is NOT for everyone. It is going to challenge you in ways most films won't dare. The adage of "your mileage may vary" has never been more appropriate. It is a visceral experience that is both engaging and preposterous, and all of that is okay. Viewer emotions are likely to run the gamut; some being moved, some being shocked and angered, but all will feel something. The ambition should be commended and encouraged, and some big props to the studio heads that green-lit this and stood by it even when the financials came back lacking much oomph and people were lighting up the Internet with torch and pitchfork emojis.
4 out of 5