A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.
What Does It Mean!?
Many a well-versed reviewer elsewhere would have you believe the allegory in Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Mother!’ is about as on-the-nose as it gets. They would argue that it’s so clear in fact, that more effort should have been made by the writer-director to bury his ‘message’ deeper within the dark, horror-like construct he’s so expertly moulded into his seventh feature. It’s a construct that simultaneously succeeds in compelling and repelling audiences; defying genre as it openly embraces it.
We here at SideWays did enjoy discussing the ‘real meaning’ of ‘Mother!’, but have no problem admitting that by post-film-pint number two we were scouring google for an explanation of all the symbolism at work. If you’ve yet to see the movie, or even if you have and you’re still trying to order the chaos in your head, you can read on knowing that the following is a spoiler-free discussion of the viewing experience alone.
By post-film-pint number two we were scouring google for an explanation of all the symbolism at work
What interests us more than metaphor is whether the film works at base level. Away from ‘what it all means’ lies the question ‘is it a good film’… Is it worth watching? And the answer is yes. Absolutely.
Belief and Obsession
As a filmmaker, Aronofsky has rarely strayed far from his thematic core. ‘Pi’, ”Requiem for a Dream’, ‘The Fountain’, ‘Noah’, and the double-hit of ‘The Wrestler’ and ‘Black Swan’ all deal with two primary concepts: belief and obsession. ‘Mother!’ is no different. Javier Bardem’s character – a writer – is obsessed with creating the follow-up to his successful debut, whilst loyal wife Jennifer Lawrence – the star of the film and here showcasing some of her finest work to date – is committed to lovingly restoring their marital home. The themes are clear, but the story from the outset works perfectly at cellular level, any other mechanics at play only adding another layer to an already well-paced and finely balanced first act.
Tonally we’re somewhere between the tension of Michael Haneke and the horror of Roman Polanski. Aronofsky has cast his influence net wide, eschewing the ‘hip-hop’ stylings of his early work for an updated Hitchcockian approach that’s intriguingly fresh. When Ed Harris arrives and the tranquility of the home is broken, the story becomes a tense guessing game, and as matters escalate and ‘Mother!’ reaches its midpoint, it asks audiences ‘what would you do?’ whilst gnawing at house proud viewers.
It’s been a while since a film felt so comfortable in its own skin- even if the skin here happens to be crawling and clammy
The experienced Harris and Pfeiffer are pitch-perfect in their roles and caramel-smooth Javier Bardem expertly blends the villainous sheen of his darker portrayals with the devilish charm of his lighter ones. His brightest achievement here is remaining likeable as his decisions become increasingly questionable.
Lawrence carries the weight of the film, her empathetic character never reduced to the generic scream-queen she may have become in a lesser actress’s care. Some may find the casting of Kristen Wiig in a supporting role somewhat polarising, she does nothing wrong but her appearance, along with a few others, may jerk audiences out of an otherwise immersive experience.
Committed and Daring Film-making
The house in which all the action takes place looks wonderful – a character in itself- and the camera dances around it and it’s inhabitants – namely Lawrence – like the teenage lens from David Fincher’s ‘Panic Room’ has grown up.
Act Two flirts with floundering, but every time it risks complacency the story jacks things up with the introduction of a new idea, a new character, a new deception. It’s been a while since a film felt so comfortable in its own skin – even if the skin here happens to be crawling and clammy. The films finale has proved divisive, but as a piece of cinema the final journey through the house may be Aronofsky’s finest visual work thus far. Credit the filmmaker too on the closing minutes, here fully committing to the nature of his story where other directors may have left questions unanswered. Accused of pretentiousness by many, this decision shows a maturity that should be acknowledged as the opposite.
With ‘Mother!’, Darren Aronofsky has reasserted himself as one of the finest writer-directors of his generation
That said, ‘Mother!’ does leave more than enough questions hanging as the credits roll, the primary one being, ‘what next for Aronofsky?’ For after the promising yet ultimately disappointing ‘Noah’, he has now reasserted himself as one of the finest filmmakers working today.