Review: ‘Mother!’

Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! is NOT for general audiences. Let me just get that out of the way right now. I have no clue how this film got a wide release. It’s weird, intense, art-house craziness that I heard more than one person in my screening scoff at throughout the film. That being said: it’s still a good film. Sure, I found it to be allegorical nonsense at times, but in the end I left the theater feeling mostly satisfied.

Let me get the basics out of the way: Mother! centers around a married couple (Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence). Bardem is a poet struggling with writer’s block, and Lawrence plays his dedicated wife working to restore their old, massive house. Things start to take a turn for the worse when Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer show up. I can’t get into anything beyond that, it would get way too spoiler-y for a review. All I’ll say is that things get bonkers. There’s a baby, some murder, Kristen Wiig shows up; it’s basically sensory overload for the film’s second half.

Looking back, this film is not about its plot. I know what you’re thinking, “But Ross, the plot is the most important part of a film!” To that I say this: Mother! is not your typical film. Director Darren Aronofsky himself has said this movie is all about the allegory and symbolism found within. If you watch this film and try to ground the plot in any sensical, realistic way, you’re going to walk out of the theater hating it. But if you let go of all prior inhibitions about plot and let the nonsense carry you to wherever it wants to take you, I think you’ll have a much better experience. I’m also not gonna tell you what all the symbols in the film represent, because that would spoil the fun of seeing it for yourself.

Moving on from the weirdness, we come to the film’s performances (spoiler alert: they’re all pretty good). Jennifer Lawrence may have been top-billed, but it’s the supporting characters that steal the show. Javier Bardem is both powerful and subtle in his performance as a struggling poet. Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer both shine as mysterious strangers that show up in J-Law’s paradise. Lawrence herself however, is more of a mixed bag. Starting out, she excels in the film’s quieter settings, displaying a poise that I haven’t really seen from her before. As the film escalates (and oh boy, does it escalate), however, her performance sags.

While the performances of the film range from fine to great, one of Mother!’s absolute strongest points is its technical work. I LOVED the way this film looked. The framing of cinematographer Matthew Libatique is full of claustrophobic, tightly-framed close-ups, making the viewer feel trapped in the house with the characters. In addition, the lighting is soft and subdued. In a cinema landscape filled with over-lit, visually boring films, Mother! is dark and natural, which drew me into the world of the film.

Before I finish, I do want to talk about the film’s shortcomings. This is by no means a perfect film. There are times when Aronofsky’s symbolism is so heavy-handed, so over the top, that I nearly burst out laughing. In addition, if you’re not paying attention it can be extremely difficult to tell what story he’s trying to tell with all of the allegory involved. I call this allegorical overkill. For the casual viewer, it’s just too much. You have to be in the exact right mood to watch this film. This isn’t something you randomly decide to watch with your friends on a Friday night.

As a whole, I liked Mother!. I think. Honestly, I’ve changed my rating for it on IMDb at least five times since I saw it. As of right now, I think it’s a good film. As over-the-top as it may be, it was still a worthwhile theater experience. Don’t take my word for it though, for it’s a film that one truly has to see to believe.

Rating: 3/5