Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer
Rated R for strong disturbing violent content, some sexuality, nudity and language
2 hrs. 1 min.
Yikes! That’s my one-word description for director Darren Aronofsky’s new allegorical film, mother! No, I didn’t misspell this. It’s his title, but the spelling, along with a cast of nameless characters, should give you a clue as to what we’re dealing with here; mother! is intended to send a message to Earthlings. The question is, what message?
In all of Aronofsky’s films, there’s a level of ambiguity that allows many different interpretations, but none of his films has been quite so blunt and horrific. There’s a desperate urgency to mother! that makes it unique.
Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and Him (Javier Bardem) have settled into domestic tranquility in an old fixer-upper house in the country. Mother restores the house, tends to Him’s needs and tries to remain a source of encouragement. He’s a world-famous poet suffering from writer’s block. She wants to be supportive.
Him goes out for a walk one night and returns with a surprise guest. Man (Ed Harris), an orthopedic surgeon, happens to be a fan of Him. Much to Mother’s surprise, Him invites Man to come in, have a drink, then spend the night, Mother goes along with the gesture, if only to keep the peace.
The arrival of Man is the beginning of a parade of characters who darken their doorstep. First, there’s Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), Man’s wife. She proceeds to snoop around, have sex with her husband in Mother’s bedroom, and make snide remarks to Mother as she drinks her host’s liquor. Then Man and Woman’s two boys arrive, fighting over their father’s will. It’s a literal clash to the death. The Oldest Son (Domhnall Gleeson) kills his Younger Brother (Brian Gleeson).
Mother is surprised by a wake in her house. Groups of strangers arrive to mourn the loss of Younger Brother. And this is only the beginning. It’s like Big Brother times 10 as Mother frantically pleads with her rowdy guests to behave. Him doesn’t seem to mind. He’s just trying to make his adoring fans happy.
I know that there is much symbolism going on here. Even if you come in cold, as I did, you can understand off the top that there are several elements to this story.
There’s the struggle between Mother and Him. There’s the house itself, which Mother feels through the walls (suggesting that the structure has a soul). There’s the connection between Man and his audience, who become demanding and murderous. There’s the sacrifice of the child.
And then there are the visual effects, as Aronofsky uses maximum close-ups to watch Mother’s eyes, hands and face. Rather than shoot with the standard 4K digital clarity, Aronofsky lets the camera linger on the edge of focus. You can see the tiny pixels in the picture, as if there’s another life swirling around Mother.
What does all this add up to?
I have no idea — and this is the controversy of the film. If Aronofsky intends this as an allegory (as he has admitted), it’s left to the viewer to decide what mother! means. In that sense, it’s like a piece of art open to interpretation.
One thing is certain; mother! will keep you guessing, up to and including the ending. I think that is part of the film’s strength. It implies that in life, there are more questions than answers, but the drama of the Earth is the story of human behavior, its sins and consequences, its impact on all that is touched by human hands.
Then again, I could be wrong. Maybe this is just my inner philosopher speaking.
Make of it what you will — intriguing, baffling, pretentious, wacko. If mother! is intended to horrify and baffle, it surely succeeds. As for those pesky what and why questions, don’t stress. Sometimes with art, it’s just better to look at it, say, “Yeah, OK,” and move on.