Director: Darren Aronofsky
Runtime: 121 minutes
I have a particular method to deduce whether I have enjoyed a film or not, a method that comes into play as I begin to make my way out of the cinema. If the film is both moving and entertaining, I get into my car with a big smile on my face, feeling as though I have learnt a little bit more about the world. It sounds corny, I know, but it has been reliable thus far. It was from this method, however, that I came to deduce Darren Aronofsky’s psychological horror, mother!, as not ticking all the boxes. I left the cinema even more confused and uninspired than when I had entered.
mother! follows the tranquil existence of Mother (Jennifer Lawrence), a young woman married to the older, once successful poet, Him (Javier Bardem). They reside in Him’s isolated childhood home, which Mother continues to restore after a fire. Their apparent contentment is disturbed, however, when a stranger, Man (Ed Harris), and his wife, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), arrive looking for accommodation. They are infatuated with Him’s work, but completely disregard Mother’s refurbishments, their extended stay instigating increasingly disturbing events and the latter’s emotional distress. Eventually, Mother’s sanctuary is completely overrun by Him’s adoring fans, who he refuses to send away despite Mother’s endless offerings of love and support.
And that is about all I can tell you with absolutely certainty. There is obvious allegoric meaning behind the film, but I can’t adequately articulate what this is. At once it seems to comment on male-female relationships, that no matter what women do for men, men will never stop wanting more.
But that does not fully explain the biting, condescending remarks offered by Woman towards Mother, the former perceiving the latter’s childlessness as unnatural. Perhaps Aronofsky is suggesting the inability of young women to make the right move? I still don’t know.
Lawrence has suggested her role as representing Mother Earth. This does make sense as Him, a type of creator, and Man and Woman, the Adam and Eve of the narrative, are seemingly convinced that if Mother is destroyed, another will take her place.
But this is the problem with the film, you can never be certain.
The main performances are exceptionally naturalistic and engaging, and the dialogue is realistically taut despite the obviously abnormal situation. Moreover, the omission of a soundtrack and the constant creaking of the house add to the tension. But it is slow-paced. You wait desperately for something to happen, but when it does you wish it never had. Out of nowhere the house erupts into a literal war zone, and the unnecessarily overt violence eventually befalls a newborn baby. Both of these instances didn’t offer me any new understanding of the story or literal world. Maybe it was an intentional means to convey both Mother and Aronofsky’s decline into madness?
I just don’t know. Aronofsky certainly hasn’t compromised his vision for our benefit, and I applaud his independence.
If you enjoy deciphering incoherent riddles, and have a strong stomach for violence involving newborn babies, by all means, go see mother! When you figure it out please let me know. I am still fundamentally confused.