USA | UK 2017
Opening September 14, 2017
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Writing credits: Darren Aronofsky
Principal actors: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson, Kristen Wiig, Stephen McHattie
The opening sequence is as cryptic as the ensuing movie is a challenge to grasp. Once back at the beginning, Mother (Lawrence) and poet husband HIM (Bardem) ramble around their huge rural residence. While HIM writes a masterpiece, her forté is renovating the house. One night, a stranger shows up and ultimately HIM suggests Man (Harris) stay overnight. The next day, much to Mother’s chagrin and HIM’s delight, Woman (Pfeiffer) joins her husband. Their sons (Domhnall and Brian Gleeson) come and go; eventually, life regains some balance. Until HIM produces an epic tour de force, with its accompanying disruptions.
Writer-director Darren Aronofsky’s idea is neat enough: a classic dream (that turns into a nightmare), combined with good color usage throughout. Conversely, the stilted, sluggish beginning drags on quite awhile. As the film picks up, so do clichés – one after another infinitum. Aronofsky also packs in so much societal commentary it becomes tiresome and confusing.
Favoring long films, one of Aronofsky’s shortest at 84 minutes was his worthy 1998 directorial debut, Pi (π, 1998). The surrealist psychological thriller film was favorably received, because of its strong script/characters development (absent in Mother!). As were two previous psychological horror thriller films, Requiem for a Dream (2000, 102 minutes) and Black Swan (2010, 108 minutes). Any clear message Aronofsky might have intended for Mother! is smothered by clichés, and visual / societal commentary overkill.
Javier Bardem inhabits his character, whereas Jennifer Lawrence seems to sleepwalk through half the film, but then, her character is the most vague. Other cast members are sound, as is Matthew Libatique’s Cinematography, and Andrew Weisblum’s Editing. Accolades to the many Special Effects and Visual Effects artists, and lets not forget the many Stunts performers.
Mother! received a lot of hype up to now, but falls short of expectations. At its world premiere, the 74th Venice International Film Festival, the film was booed, although some aggregator review websites rate it well. Nonetheless, who wants to be subjected to a 120 minutes nightmare? ( )
A beautiful house in the countryside is lovingly reconstructed by an unnamed woman (Jennifer Lawrence). She is trying to make everything perfect for her husband (Javier Bardem), a famous poet who lost everything in a devastating fire. The woman is content with her work, but when her husband invites a strange man (Ed Harris) and his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) into the house, their idyllic and isolated life abruptly changes.
Mother! certainly has a lot of hype. Partly this is due to its interesting premise, but also because of the mysterious trailers which make it seem like some sort of bizarre psychological thriller. Unfortunately, it is as an unrelenting slog, which is more akin to a high-school student’s attempt at discussing philosophical concepts than any true insight. From the beginning, it is difficult to follow. Halting and bland dialogue is interspersed with confusing time jumps which serve to throw the audience off balance. This all done in an attempt to make the reveal at the conclusion of the film more rewarding, but instead only serves to be frustrating beyond belief.
Over and over again, symbols of motherhood and pregnancy (so many gratuitous nipple shots!) are flung around. However, despite the focus on Jennifer Lawrence (and her nipples which are practically her costars in this film), it is all clearly done through the lens of the male gaze. She is the poet’s subservient wife: clingy and codependent. She cooks, she cleans, she gives her unwavering support, and her body is perfect and highlighted at every possible moment by the camera. She is the ultimate wife of the poet, and if he were to leave, it is certain that she would cease to exist. While her character is nothing more than a caricature, the others are also not much better, each a cardboard cutout whose only purpose is to highlight some sort of allegory or incomprehensible symbolism.
After spoon-feeding the audience his answer to this confusing mess, writer/director Darren Aronofsky seems to be begging everyone to think hard and deep about what he thinks are the lofty ideas he has woven throughout the film. Unfortunately, he might not be so happy to find that all that has really been revealed is his own deep-seated misogyny and inflated sense of self-importance which mar his attempt at a masterpiece. Mother! is bloated, clichéd, and esoteric, and will likely only appeal to those who don’t mind clueless films which only exist so that Hollywood insiders can pat themselves on the back.