Darren Aronofsky is not here to make friends. His films are not meant to be easy or digestible. But they also do not aim to be crude for the sake of crudeness either. His films show us the darkest sides of humanity and the human experience, but fail to offer us the typical spoonful of sugar at the end.
MOTHER! (exclamation point, for emphasis!) is Aronofsky’s latest film, and possibly his darkest too. Given that this is coming from the director of both REQUIEM FOR A DREAM and BLACK SWAN, I am well aware of my assertion of MOTHER!’S standing in cinematic history, and I will stand by it. In simpler terms: this shit is fucked up.
To describe the plot of the film is a disservice to the film, but I’ll take a swing at it. MOTHER! Follows Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) as she repairs and settled in to both her marriage to Him (Javier Bardem) and his newly rebuilt provincial palace. She is repainting and decorating her way through the entire house as an act of supporting her genius husband while he creates another poetic masterpiece. One day the mysterious stranger Man (Ed Harris) shows up out of nowhere their insular lives begin to expand to accommodate this new person, and Mother’s capacity for tolerating change is called into question.
When I say that the film follows Mother throughout the plot, I mean that both in terms of story and in terms of framing. Lawrence’s face, or the back of her head, takes up nearly every single shot of the film. The camera follows her every move, and we are never very far from it. We don’t see everything she sees, but we do see her seeing everything she sees. The attention to her as a vessel for emotion and reaction is obsessive and intentional. This choice from cinematographer Matthew Libatique and Aronofsky is a simple one, but the effect utterly changes the audience’s experience with the film and with Mother herself. There is no escaping her.
Another choice Aronofsky made for MOTHER! is to treat the film’s temporal space like a playground. Certain moments seem to linger longer than possible, and hours or months can go by in the blink of an eye. Very little attention is called to this, but much like the framing device, MOTHER! is asking a lot from the audience in terms of tolerance of Aronofsky’s dictatorship over the film. We are not met with pleasantries or given any safe space here.
While it would be both cliché and accurate to say that the house is another character in the film, I will make the argument that the house is the film’s score. There is no music added to MOTHER! But the film is seldom quiet. The house creaks and it yawns. As characters as always zooming around the rooms, and up the towering spiral staircase we can follow them by their noises alone. There are no carpets, and the newly renovated floors are always going on about something. It is not music, but the house’s sometimes cacophonic presence is the auditory soul of the film.
If the prospect of spending a full two hours staring at Lawrence’s mug, without reprieve or music sounds like a drag, I would say that you still give MOTHER! a try. As a lifelong horror devotee I must say that this film really got to me. I will not offer any spoilers for the truly gruesome and nihilist ending, though that is what make the film so sensational. Even without that ending, the film still holds a place in my heart as being one of the most emotionally horrific experiences to endure. Mother’s life in the house is all fine and dandy until Man shows up (or is it?). After that, the emotional journey her character endures is nothing short of tragic and wrought with pain. I found myself simultaneously empathizing with her character, and getting furious with her for not being as angry as she should have been. There is a lot to unpack here, and each audience member is likely bringing their own baggage to the theater, but the experience was quite traumatic for me.
MOTHER! is nothing short of a cinematic triumph. We only get a few of these each year, so pay attention and see this before some internet troll tries to ruin it for you. Though the film is far greater than just its last 20 minutes, you owe it to yourself to go in naïve and willing to experience it for yourself.