Film Review

'Mother!' is a dense and rewarding film that you'll potentially loathe

By Leigh Monson

   Let's get this out of the way: if anyone reading this review goes to see Mother! based upon my recommendation, there is sure to be a percentage of you who will walk away from the film hating it. With material as challenging and abstractly representational as is presented in this film, some of you will hate what it's saying—or what you think it's saying—or will be so disturbed by writer-director Darren Aronofsky's chosen methods of presenting his message and themes that the subtextual content isn't likely to matter as you prematurely leave the theater in disgust. Mother! is a difficult film to parse, but it's such an intense and daring take on its subject matter that even if you don't like it, it's hard to not admire its sheer audacity.
   The narrative revolves around a young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) and her poet husband (Javier Bardem) as she attempts to restore their old house to a level of respectability while he struggles to once again put words to the page. When a man (Ed Harris) shows up on their doorstep looking for hospitality, the poet allows him to stay despite his wife's obvious discomfort with letting a stranger into their home. Before long, the man's wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their sons arrive at the house, and events transpire so that more and more people flock to the house out of adoration for the poet and his works. Meanwhile, the persistent and destructive presence of their houseguests pushes Lawrence's character to the brink of madness, and to reveal where the film develops from there would be a disservice to how brazenly it defies expectation.
   To get a general idea of what to expect, a familiarity with Aronofsky's other works, such as Black Swan, Noah, and Requiem for a Dream, serve as helpful touchstones for the thematic subjects he likes to explore. Aronofsky is fascinated by religious allegory, environmentalism, the dramatic plight of the creative process, and the ways in which social pressures destroy women from the inside out, and each of those elements have a role to play in how Mother! develops. Once you understand the wavelength this film is operating on, its eventual conclusion becomes no less harrowing for its apparent inevitability. There is a particular literary work that Mother! constantly alludes to that serves as a Rosetta Stone for the entire experience, so once you figure that bit out, the symbolism and references start to assemble in compelling and thought-provoking ways.
   Well, most of the time, anyway. Aronofsky plays it a bit fast and loose with his abstract imagery, so there are particular segments of the film that are clearly meant to represent something, but their significance is perhaps too oblique to decipher upon a single viewing if they are decipherable at all. And yes, the immense brutality and extremity of the final act is sure to cause a lot of theatrical walk-outs, pushing the limits of what some might consider in good taste in order to make a blunt point at the expense of your comfort. The performances, though, are absolutely incredible, from the poet's obsession with the adoration of his fans to the cool egocentricity of Pfieffer's character's disregard for politeness or decorum to the slow degradation of Lawrence's character's deteriorating sanity, always held in tight focus through extreme close-up.
   More than anything, Mother! feels like a dare to its audience to endure, an intellectually and emotionally taxing experience that was delivered into cinemas under the guise of conventional horror that instead explores topics much more existential. It's a hard movie to watch, but a rewarding one to dwell upon. Some of you are bound to hate it, but regardless it is a feat of engrossing abstract cinema.

4/5 stars

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