Director: Darren Aronofsky
This movie is one trippy, nightmarish horror show of unrelenting tension. And I was fascinated.
The movie follows a young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) who is married to a middle-aged poet (Javier Bardem) who is struggling with writer's block. The woman (her name is never given, but referred to as "Mother" in the credits) leaves her husband (name also never given, credited as "Him") to seek inspiration in solitude, while she meticulously repairs and refurbishes their entire house, which is a grand old country home that apparently suffered some sort of damage in the past. A visitor arrives (Ed Harris), and he very quickly imposes on the couple. While Mother is none too pleased with the unexpected guest's intrusion, Him seems oddly welcoming to this stranger. Soon, the stranger's obnoxious wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives, adding to Mother's concerns. After this point, the situation steadily spirals out of control for Mother over the course of time. The entire home eventually becomes a whirlwind of bizarre and aggressive behaviors which Mother tries to reckon with.
Darren Aronofsky, who wrote and directed the movie, has shown in past films that he is more than willing to offer commentary on grand themes, while using hallucinogenic visuals to convey discomfort. He did this in his first two features, Pi and Requiem for a Dream, which dealt with paranoia and addiction, respectively. Mother! does an equally commendable job building a sense of claustrophobia at the hands of encroaching guests and ever-multiplying hordes of unwanted visitors. When you add in the hallucinogenic, sometimes surrealist visions which Mother experiences, the movie certainly creates a mood. It's not likely to be a mood which pleases you, but I have to think that Aronofsky's point was to make us squirm more than a little. Mission accomplished.
Lest you think that the movie is simply about freaking out us viewers, rest assured that there is far more to it than that. Aronofsky has never been one to shy away from swinging for the fences in terms of grand themes, and mother! is no exception. It becomes clear fairly early on that we are not meant to see the characters on screen as "real" people, but rather archetypes. The character names in the credits certainly confirm this, giving credence to the idea that we are watching an allegory for several notions, some much more obvious than others. Such relatively abstract forms of film are likely to annoy or frustrate many viewers, but I found them mostly fascinating.
If you have seen the cast list, you will probably not be surprised that the acting is outstanding. Curiously, as purely cinematic as much of this movie is, there are certain elements that put me in mind of a stage play. This is something that can require a certain extra grandiosity in actors' performances, and will rarely work in films. In mother!, however, it actually works, given the allegorical nature of the tale. Enhancing the performances are the framing, camerawork, and set designs, which certainly create a memorable setting and sense of ever-increasing chaos.
If one has looked at reviews for this movie, you'll notice very mixed reactions (something Aronofsky movies have inspired in the past). I think that this is for a couple of reasons. If one is able to see this movie as a piece of art, not unlike bizarre or even grotesque works by masters like Picasso or Gustave Dore, then one is likely to appreciate much of what it has to offer. If, on the other hand, one is expecting a traditional horror tale or human drama, then one is likely to be disappointed at the least and outright offended at worst. So it helps to know what you're in for here.
This is one of those movies that I can't say that I "enjoyed" but that certainly held my interest and which I found to be a quality piece of art. Some of the social commentary can come off a bit obvious or heavy-handed here and there, but I was always curious about what the next scene would bring. At times, I found it was actually predictable, but there were enough surprises and oddly vague suggestions that I remained engaged for the film's full two hours. I may never watch it again, but I was glad to catch it on the big screen.