mother!

Release: Friday, September 15, 2017

→Theater

Written by: Darren Aronofsky

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

No one makes movies like Darren Aronofsky. Then again, does anyone dare?

With mother! the enfant terrible of modern Hollywood has produced quite possibly his most polarizing and interpretive work yet. That does take into consideration his previous effort, the controversial Noah epic. And I haven’t forgotten The Fountain (how could I?) Yet the plunge into absolute anarchy we unwittingly commit ourselves to in his new movie is so intense, so absurdly cruel and caustic that forgetting whatever hells he has put us through before actually becomes easier done than said.

Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem‘s baptism into the world of Aronofsky has them playing husband and wife, living in an elaborate but lonely Victorian home in the middle of nowhere, USA. They’re working to rebuild after a devastating house fire. Well, “mother” has been doing most of the work, while her Husband — no character is given a name, just a label, one of the film’s many aspects open for interpretation — has been moping around, struggling with writer’s block. Ostensibly we are here to witness the evolution of a seemingly idyllic relationship and the sacrifices one must make to be a part of a marriage. The give-and-take dynamic that makes a relationship both a joy and a responsibility. Or something along those lines.

That’s the impression we’re given with mother!‘s quieter, though never comfortable, opening half anyway. But things take a decidedly nasty turn with the appearance of a supposed “doctor” (Ed Harris) on their doorstep, who mistakenly assumes their grand abode to be a bed-and-breakfast. The Husband, rejuvenated by the presence of an outsider, who also just happens to be a big fan of his writing, decides a sleepover is in order, much to the chagrin of “mother.” “Doctor” then invites his drunk wife (Michelle Pfeiffer in a searing role) to stay. Bizarre complications arise when their sons arrive soon thereafter.

From here, it’s a series of increasingly outrageous intrusions upon the sanctuary that is one’s home, which is then torpedoed into a brutal, often literal, assault on “mother” herself. I liken the experience to those college parties I attended that were simply overwhelmed with bodies. Parties in which anonymity could become dangerous in a hurry. The keggars where you start off recognizing 90% of the room but by night’s end there are strangers diving off the roof into the grass because “it looked like water from above.” Aronofsky takes the concept of an out-of-control bacchanalia to Aronofskian extremes, exponentially increasing the animosity between put-upon host and disorderly guest.

Admittedly, ‘ultimate party movie’ is a pretty basic read of the narrative — one in which elements of creationism, artistic narcissism, the state of the modern celebrity-fan relationship, and climate change denialism (or more generally, angry American politics in the age of Trump) are just as likely to be inferred. Some allusions are of course more debatable than others. mother! is steeped in Biblical references from which you can’t escape. You’ll find Cain and Abel in Domhnall and Brian Gleeson’s fraternal antagony; Jesus in “mother”‘s suffering. The way Bardem slots in between all of this becomes obvious even if you don’t devote all or most of your attention to the religious symbolism.

As much as the entire cast transform themselves here — I’m often left wondering what working with such an uncompromising artist does to those who answer the call — it is Lawrence’s brave (and bravura) performance that provides the lifeblood of the film — a slowly fraying tether between her humanity and the world in which she is forced to survive. During shooting, reportedly the actor had to be put on oxygen in between certain takes, hyperventilating well after the director had yelled “cut.” I suppose, at the very least the extreme conditions of mother! literally took Lawrence’s breath away. That should count for something.

For us, the masochists that we are, the ride is baffling and infuriating and similarly renders us breathless. The slow departure from any conventional sense of reality legitimately defies categorization and, to some extent, criticism itself. Everything you see in the frame can be symbolic or it can mean absolutely nothing. And maybe that’s all the film is, chaos that needs no justification. A giant middle finger to reason and logic. This is a modern Picasso that demands an audience, whoever that may be.

Recommendation: In the interest of full disclosure: using Aronofsky’s almost entirely fresh cast — only Marcia Jean Kuntz, here playing a “thief,” has had roles in previous films of his — as a measuring stick to judge whether the film is something you’ll like might be a bad idea. Better to prioritize director vs. the cast, because come the end of this you’ll no longer recognize Katniss Everdeen. And Anton Chigur was mean, but he has nothing on this guy. 

Rated: hard R

Running Time: 121 mins.

Quoted: “MURDER! MURDER!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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24 thoughts on “mother!

  1. Awesomely written mate. Some great points here too, I laughed at the college party comparison (that isn’t really a thing down here). Totally with you on Lawrence and Michelle Pfeiffer, they were freaking brilliant. Ed Harris was too, hell everyone was. I really liked how you summed it up, a giant middle finger to logic. Chaos without reason. Hell yes man. Very well said

    • The movie gets to such a point where you have to kind of accept the trickery that’s going on. For lack of better words, I felt like I popped out on top of the movie and just kind of felt like a voyeur from around the hour and a half mark onwards. Watching Lawrence negotiate those final moments was harrowing and hilarious at the same time.

    • Thanks! I bid you good luck as you head down the gauntlet, then. It’s a wild ride! Hope to hear from you about what you make of it all!

  2. Pingback: Month in Review: September ’17 | Thomas J

  3. The ‘ultimate party movie’ is a good way to describe the narrative in simple terms without spoilers. It spins perilously out of control.

    I walked out of the theater thinking it was about one thing. Then read some people’s thoughts afterward and discovered several other interpretations. They’re all valid. It’s a fascinating and thought-provoking film.

    • Yikes! Sorry for the delayed comment man.

      This is one party that just goes absolutely ape. The carnage and recklessness puts that of Project X to shame. (I can’t believe I drew that comparison, but there’s definitely a bacchanalia-level of excess at least to some of the earlier parts of that last act. Then of course it just goes well beyond any sense of normality, even for party movies.) Really got a kick out of this. Not sure I’d watch it twice, though.

  4. Great review Tom! I have to say I’m the last person in the world who’d watch this. Sounds way too disturbing for me, although it sounds very good.

    • It’s something of an extreme film. It’s caused quite a lot of controversy and I totally understand it. It’s not typical mainstream fare

    • You’re right. The angling of Jennifer Lawrence as the main draw is really disingenuous and doesn’t prepare a mainstream audience at all for what’s to come. Admittedly, they try to pump it up with the “You have to see it to believe it” tag line but, yeah. It’s awesome to see a big studio back a movie like this, though, and to have it rolled out wide takes some courage.

      Also, I really like your ‘gutsy’ pun there. 😉

    • I think when it comes to Aronofsky, success means a totally different thing than from other directors. Success for him means getting a reaction out of the viewer. I think he’s definitely done that, one way or the other, with ‘mother!’ It’s a polarizing one for sure. But it’s I think impossible not to come away with some kind of reaction to it.

    • Interesting is the operative word here. 😉

      It’s a movie unlike you’ve ever seen, even if you’ve seen all of Aronofsky’s. It’s such a CRAZY ride. Hope you . . . enjoy?

    • A very nice call on the music, Ashley. This is one of those films for which I actually and rather accidentally didn’t see any trailers before watching. I had read a few reviews of it coming out of the Venice Film Festival (I think it was) and saw the names attached. Plunged myself in. And holy fucking hell.

      But the music is a fairly good indicator of how you’re going to feel. I’ll leave it at that. 🙂

  5. Nice review man. Surprised you liked it so much, especially after reading all of the negativity around this one. Definitely going to check it out for myself!

    • Mother is a movie that cares not what you think about it. It just does it’s thing. Something about that really had me.

      I did admire this movie, but honestly I have no idea if I actually enjoyed it. It’s certainly a one-and-done situation for me!

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