by Alex Bird
Mother!, if nothing else, earns its exclamation point. Darren Aronofsky’s new film is sure to be one of the craziest, most ambitious, and most contentious films of the year.
At first glance, Mother!, set in a single location with minimal use of sophisticated effects, seems akin to the recent crop of low budget psychological horror films put out by indie studios like A24. For the first half of the movie, the A-List cast is the only thing letting us know that this is a bigger production than something like It Comes At Night. Two unnamed characters, a married couple (Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem), live in a half-finished farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. We learn early on that they have recently moved into the house, belonging to the husband, after it was destroyed by a fire. He is a successful poet struggling with writer’s block. As he has been attempting to create something new, she has been almost singlehandedly finishing the house herself. She claims to enjoy the work, but we get the sense that their relationship is strained. Besides the two of them, the house itself seems to be almost alive, and functions as a major character.
Just as we get to know these characters, a stranger (Ed Harris) arrives at their door. Claiming that he thought there were rooms for rent in the house, the couple reluctantly allows him to stay the night. The next day, he is joined by his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), and, eventually, more and more strangers, all of whom are embroiled in personal drama with one another, and seem completely oblivious to the fact that they are intruding in someone else’s home. Unlike his wife, Bardem’s character welcomes the visitors, and we get the sense that he is in on the joke. The whole section feels like a late Luis Buñuel film but played bizarrely straight. There are flashes of dark comedy throughout, invariably followed up with something darker and stranger to bring us back to the drama. The second half of the film at first seems to rehash the first before spiralling into much wilder and more disturbing territory.
Mother! is not quite a horror movie, nor is it exactly like anything else. The closest analogue might be Lars Von Trier’s equally divisive Antichrist.In fact, the whole movie feels like an attempt to prove that Aronofsky is capable of the same arthouse pretension. With its biblical allusions, surreal imagery, and openness to a wide variety of interpretations, Mother! succeeds in this, at least. The fact that it’s a major studio production in wide release inspires some hope that Hollywood will continue to take such artistic risks, although, more likely, it means the movie will be seen by more people who will hate it. Despite the fantastic performances, in particular by Jennifer Lawrence, bizarre and extremely disturbing imagery towards the end of the film all but dooms its mainstream success. It’s already been declared both the best and worst movie of the year. It’s an extremely ambitious film that’s worth seeing just to form your own opinion on.