When Darren Aronofsky releases a new film, I'm there. While the second part of his career has been a little hit and miss, even his flukes tend to be unique and different enough to warrant a trip to the theater. The first impressions of Mother! (mind the exclamation point) were bouncing between hype and severe negativity, luckily I mananged to stear clear of any spoilers or guidance. Just make sure you go into this one as blank as possible, it will only make the ride that much more impressive.
I don't really keep track of how many films I watch in theaters each year, but it's probably somewhere between 20 and 30. I do love the experience, but I rarely love the films. The last one I reviewed was Hardcore Henry and that was almost one and a half years ago. I'm actually a bit surprised they decided to release Mother! in cinemas here. It's a very divisive film and it's sure to leave some people confused, if not angry and cheated out of their money. I'm not complaining though.
I think it’s OK to be confused. The movie has a dream-logic and that dream-logic makes sense. But if you try to unscrew it, it kind of falls apart. So it’s a psychological freak-out. You shouldn’t over-explain it.
Mother! isn't a very literal film (as a reference: Aronofsky stated he drew influences from Luis Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel). The symbolism is thick, layered and obvious, but explaining what exactly it's about is a lot tougher. More specifically: finding one, singular explanation that fits the entire film seems impossible. That's also what Aronofsky's above quote seems to allude to. Once you try to pigeon-hole the symbolism, it starts to fall apart real quick. Instead Mother! is an amalgam of ideas and allegories that both fight and feed off each other and end up becoming one big, feverish, visceral nightmare.
While watching I found myself jumping between different theories. The first act felt like an allusion to America's (and Europe's) refugee problems, later on the film reveals clear religious influences, but also a strong environmental message, an opinionated take on gender roles and politics and even strong allusions to the relationship an artist shares with his audience as well as the art he creates. Upon further reading, I also found a solid take that point towards the destructive effect of narcissism. In the end, none of those explanations feels truly fulfilling, yet all of them feel relevant.
On the visual side of things, Mother! is a pretty intense and demanding film. Aronofsky glues the camera to his characters and makes it their shadow. Even though the entire film plays in a single house, you never really get a solid grip on the place, as most of the frame tends to be eclipsed by its occupants. It leaves you grasping for straws and keeps you on your toes while you try and mentally map the setting together, though Aronofsky never grants you the release you're looking for. While not as rhythmic as some of Aronofsky's earlier work, nor as polished and slick-looking, the visuals sure are dense and overpowering and add a lot to the overall experience.
The music is mostly absent, but nonetheless the sound design is very much present and leading. Aronofsky builds his soundscapes in such a way that slightly filtered high-pitched tones keep edging themselves to the front, creating a very uneasy and foreboding atmosphere. There is a short rave scene where Aronofsky isn't afraid to crank up the BPMs, but that's about it. Music has always played a strong role in Aronofsky's films, so I guess it's a little surprising to see him ditch an entire soundtrack. Then again, it's nice to see he can play with different types of sound design while still making a distinct and valuable impact on his film.
Much has been said about the peculiar casting, but Aronofsky coached his actors to perfection. It's rare to see a cast this diverse (no, not in color) and so out of their comfort zone pull it together (I mean, Kristen Wiig, Ed Harris and Jennifer Lawrence featuring in a psychologic thriller), but each and every one puts in a strong and captivating performance. Quite an accomplishment with the camera so close to the actors, capturing every little twitch and grimace, but not a single one succumbs under the pressure. Bardem and Lawrence deserve the biggest accolades though and I wouldn't be surprised if it earns them some prizes.
Mother! is a film that toys with the expectations of its audience. The trailers marketed the film as a home invasion horror, but even that angle is flipped around by Aronofsky. While Lawrence's meticulously renovated home gets trampled on and destroyed by a group of outsiders, Lawrence is made out to be "the bad guy" while her husband acts as the ever-forgiving host. To see your own private world ruined by others while being unable to react in fear of social backlash is a particular kind of horror that I don't think I've ever seen before in film, but it's extremely enervating and infuriating, not to say extremely effective.
From there on out the films grows ever more grotesque. To say the second part derails is an understatement, but Aronofsky completely owns the direction Mother! takes. Some people are going to hate it, others will love it, but there's simply no way to stay unfazed by what Aronofsky puts in front of his audience. It's been a while since a film got me this tense and on edge and it's somewhat comforting to know something like that is still possible, even with 7000+ films behind me.
A film like Mother! is impossible to recommend, but it's also a film that needs to be experienced regardless of appreciation. There are no trailers or reviews that can prepare you for the onslaught of terror and chaos here, at the same time there is infinite potential for dissecting the film afterwards. It's a film that is tailored to allow for a thorough personal experience, while also talking about subjects that encompass the whole of humanity. One thing is sure, Aronofsky delivers the goods and reestablishes himself as one of the most talented and relentless directors of his generation.