Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is a daring, uncompromising and extremely unsettling drama featuring a brilliant performance from Jennifer Lawrence.
At the start of the film, Lawrence’s character (referred to as “mother” in the credits) is working on renovations of the house she shares with her poet husband (Javier Bardem). She paints while he struggles with writing something new. There is something oddly distant between the two of them. One night, a man (Ed Harris) knocks on their door. Though he is a complete stranger, the husband invites him to stay the night. The next day, his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives. The Bardem character invites both to stay. I will not reveal any more than that.
What I can talk about are the performances. Jennifer Lawrence is either on-screen or we are seeing from her point of view in nearly every moment of the film. It is a very difficult role and she gives a powerful performance that starts quiet and gets more desperate as events escalate. Bardem is very good as a man who is an enigma even to his wife. His motivations are the film’s central mystery. Harris and Pfeiffer are solid as usual in their roles. Their main purpose is to incite a reaction out of mother which they do very effectively.
mother! is a triumph for writer/director Darren Aronofsky (a non-religious Jew who directed 2014’s biblical epic Noah). It is obvious that he had very clear ideas of what he wanted to accomplish. His vision is bold, potentially offensive and not for mainstream audiences. There is a confidence to it that is incredibly impressive. He was not afraid of upsetting his audience.
There are two major elements of his direction that I enjoyed. The first is the use of colors, especially when it comes to mother. For the first ¾, this is a bright film and she is usually wearing white. I won’t say what that symbolizes, but it makes her stand apart from the other characters, highlighting her isolation from them.
The second is the camerawork by cinematographer Matthew Libatique. The entire film takes place inside the house and the camera stays close to the actors. The shot selection makes mother! feel shockingly intimate and claustrophobic. As I said earlier, Jennifer Lawrence is on-screen for most of the film. A lot of that time is spent on close-ups of her face. This can be jarring because viewers are used to being able to orient themselves by seeing the actors and the space around them. Here, we are with her every step of the way. There is no release for the viewer.
Let me make this clear: it is very possible you will hate mother! It is a very divisive film. While some critics have praised it, there are more than a few reviews that rip it apart. It is a challenging film. mother! is absurdist, metaphorical and surrealist. It does not have a literal interpretation. Everyone who sees it will have different ideas of what the films means, if they think it means anything at all. This is not the kind of film that usually gets a wide release from a major studio (mother! was distributed by Paramount Pictures). It has been marketed as a horror film, but it is not a mainstream horror film. I am not sure I would classify it as horror at all. I have no idea what genre to put it in.
Words like offensive, disturbing and confusing come to mind while trying to discuss mother! But I do not consider those to be criticisms. When a movie is not working for me, those things could make it a disaster. When it is working, they make it unique and fascinating. For some, mother! will be a disaster. For me, it is the best movie of 2017 so far. 5 out of 5 stars
By Ben Pivoz
Ben’s Movie Reviews