If anyone asked me what Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is about, I don’t think I could begin to answer. It’s one of “those” movies where part of the charm and marketing is through word of mouth about just how dense the experience is. People like to state that they understand this type of movie, awarding them the highest badge of douchebagery.
If I really boil it down, Jennifer Lawrence renovates their country home while Javier Bardem writes his next groundbreaking poem. It’s all very chic and cute but you can tell something is wrong, bubbling just underneath their thin veneer. Then Ed Harris shows up and the entire film descends into madness for the rest of its two-hour runtime.
Well I certainly understood some of the underpinnings that Aronofsky wanted us to connect with thematically, I haven’t fully grasped at what he wanted to say with mother! and that’s perfectly fine because Aronofsky’s films are conversations that are never meant to end. But then that got me thinking about audience participation, the thin line between dense and infuriating and just how hard it must be to navigate that tiny pocket.
For the last 10 years it feels like Aronofsky has found a home in that pocket, in the middle of the “watched to be rewarded,” conversation that straddles a wide spectrum of audience response. He’s made some emotionally devastating movies that were fairly straightforward in a narrative sense (think The Wrestler) but he’s also responsible for The Fountain, a movie so unbelievably scattered I still don’t know if I can recommend it.
But even with his most digestible of fare (Think Noah, Ironically) Aronosky is astoundingly good at forcing us to face the nature of our own mortality, contending with the version of ourselves that isn’t easy to face. I wouldn’t call them lectures per say, but Aronofsky wraps all of his screaming messages of “look at us, look at what’re capable of, who we’re capable of being,” in a top tier cast. He lures us in with a Hollywood shine. He lulls the audience into thinking maybe it’ll be different this time, before dimming the lights and scolding us for thinking so optimistically and it’s no different with mother! .
So no, thematically I don’t know what the film is really about. I know it deals with religion, our sense of faith in connection with a need to belong and the environment. But that’s the easy shit. Aronofsky creates a rabbit hole so strung out that the end in sight is a constant mirage of violence and hedonistic worship.
But it’s beautiful people revelling in it all, with Lawrence and Bardem playing the central husband and wife perfectly. She’s eager to please but can’t help but feel like something is missing, while Bardem is forlorn and emotionally distant and often erratic. It’s a strange relationship that borders on offensive but both actors manage to squeeze depth out of sparse script and leave much to be said across two great physical performances.
The style in which Aronofsky shot mother! is also strange. The shot composition is dominated by close ups, the camera following Lawrence for almost the entire runtime. It made me feel queasy and nervous in a way that I haven’t felt before. Mother! can be terrifying at times simply because of the shot perspective; the camera follows Lawrence throughout the house as something awful is happening, her facial expression fully cognoscente of the madness. But then she rounds a corner and the camera shifts in perspective with her showing us what she sees when she sees it. And while that seems like a normal film technique, it can be terrifying at times, placing events on the screen in such banal manner I shuddered throughout.
Christopher Orr in his Review for The Atlantic summarized mother! In a great way: “Aronofsky has made precisely the movie he set out to make. But it may very well not be a movie you want to see.” And this is a great way to put it, I’m not sure I need to see mother! ever again but I am glad that I did see it. I wrote this in my brief Twitter review, but for me its awesome that such an original talent in Darren Aronofsky is able to make movie like mother! in 2017.
The best thing I can say about this movie is that it made me think about the motivations that went into making it. I sat in the theatre for ten minutes after it ended wondering what the hell made Aronofsky want to make this movie. And maybe we’ll know one day, through director’s commentary, but I honestly hope we don’t. It’s okay not pulling the curtains back on certain things because dissecting mother! to death (which I’m sure will happen) will just flatten out any interesting discussion to be had.
Mother: Darren Aronofsky’s latest mind bender is dense, brutal and confusing. Know that there are no easy answers in mother! But if you stick through a long running time and various unsettling situations, you’ll come away with one of the most distinct movie experiences of the year.