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Review: Mother! (2017)

Mother! (2017)

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Premise: A writer and his wife (Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence) live in an isolated rural home. Their lives are thrown into turmoil by uninvited houseguests.

What Works: Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky is known for making movies that are visceral and intelligent. Pictures such as Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, and Black Swan expertly manipulate the techniques of cinema to place the audience alongside central characters who are put through extraordinary physical and emotional turmoil. Mother! reiterates some of the central motifs of Aronofsky’s work, namely obsessions that lead to self-destruction, and this film may be Aronofsky’s most ambitious run at this theme. Mother! centers upon a young married woman, played by Jennifer Lawrence, who lives in an isolated rural home with her husband, a writer played by Javier Bardem. She spends her days restoring the house while he suffers from writer’s block. Mother! can be divided into two halves. The first half concerns houseguests whose family conflicts upset the home. In the second half, the husband publishes a book and it draws a crowd of fans who quickly get out of control. There’s much more going on underneath all of that; Mother! is so named because the film centers upon the concept of creation and what it means to care for and nurture something (at first a house and later a baby) and gradually lose possession of it. The film unfolds from the point of view of Jennifer Lawrence’s character and Mother! features one of the actress’ best performances. Like Natalie Portman in Black Swan, Lawrence goes to extraordinary emotional and psychological places in Mother! but she is always empathetic, not shrill, and the film makes up for its lack of a coherent story with its appealing central character. The movie’s success is partly to Lawrence’s credit but it’s also due to the quality of the filmmaking. A lot of Mother! is shot handheld over Lawrence’s shoulder and the sound is used effectively. The result is some extraordinary sequences that are claustrophobic and chaotic. The surrealism is in service of big ideas and Mother! literalizes abstract concepts in a way that brilliantly leads to a conclusion that is provocative and unsettling.

What Doesn’t: Mother! is often uncomfortable to watch. All drama creates some discomfort; the fear we experience in a horror film or the heartache we feel while watching a good love story are central to what we as viewers look for in a motion picture. However, there are limits to the discomfort that most viewers are willing to put themselves through and the Friday night audience, which is usually looking for two hours of entertainment rather than a challenging artistic endeavor, expect a film to adhere to certain filmmaking and storytelling norms. Mother! doesn’t do that. It plays like the cinematic equivalent of a Hieronymus Bosch painting; the movie is extreme and surreal and it isn’t bound by a consistent internal logic. This film is comparable to the works of David Lynch or Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Mainstream cinemagoers are accustomed to movies being literal. Even in allegories like Planet of the Apes, viewers can choose to ignore the deeper meaning and take the story at face value. Mother! cannot be taken literally and the film doesn’t provide a conventional narrative framework to hold onto. That makes Mother! a frustrating and disorienting experience that isn’t pleasant in the way we normally gauge movie-going satisfaction and it probably isn’t going to appeal to mainstream viewers. The irony is that the art house audience might find Mother! to be too literal. The film’s allegorical qualities, especially its Biblical allusions, are pretty obvious and very little in the movie lends itself to interpretation and elaboration the way that the ending of 2001 does.

Bottom Line: Mother! is bonkers and it is not going to appeal to everyone. But Mother! is an extraordinary piece of filmmaking that is terrifically made and packed with provocative ideas.

Episode: #666 (September 24, 2017)