Starring Jennifer Lawrence & Javier Bardem
Written and Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Darren Aronofsky wants you to know the world is in pretty bad shape, and it’s mostly our fault.
Since the surprise announcement that Aronofsky shot the film in secret with Jennifer Lawrence, Mother! has occupied an auspicious space in the 2017 movie landscape. The marketing of the film has been wildly evocative, with its beautiful poster down to the staccato rhythm of its trailer, while at the same time any word on the actual plot details have been all but scarce. And for good reason it seems. The film is quite the challenge to distill, and that’s probably what Aronofsky wanted all along.
Aronofsky is no stranger to unpacking his judaic upbringing. With his debut film PI, he interweaving the tale of a paranoid schizophrenic’s descent into madness with an mystical form of judaism that involves mathematics. In his most recent film, he frequently interweaves figurative and literal interpretation of the old testament Story of Noah and the flood. contrast that with his more humanist films, like The Wrestler and Black Swan, which seem to be void of any of the theological underpinnings of Aronofsky’s more fantastical works, though the latter does have its share of psychic horror rooted in the misery of perfecting one’s art.
With Mother! Aronofsky presents a seemingly humanist story of Him and Mother, Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence respectively, living in their idyllic dream home; a spacious, victorian style home nestled in the woods of some lush hidden wilderness or…paradise? Bardem’s Him, or The Poet as he’s often referred to, finds himself at a creative impasse. Having found success in his earlier writing, but in the throes of a particularly moody bout of writers block. Meanwhile Lawrence’s Mother dutifully fulfills her roles as supportive wife and helpmeet, encouraging him even when he feels her words are mere hollow praise. It’s when they’re visited by a stranger, and soon after, his wife that their bliss is soon interrupted. And things get really strange and intense from there.
With swirling, often drawn out, hand-held cinematography by longtime Aronofsky collaborator Matthew Libatique, Aronofsky and editor Andrew Weisblum cut the film with a rhythm that with every moment of seeming calm, we, and Mother, are met with an equally frequent and escalating series of anxiety-inducing confrontations and visits by random strangers (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfieffer, notably) that continuously escalate at every turn. Soon the small group of strangers turn into throngs of devotees of the Poet, seeking his guidance, love and affection, exacerbating Lawrence’s unhinged performance to a frenzied climax that finds the Poet and his nine months pregnant wife finding their house being overran by fanatical devotees, both looking for guidance and looking for a piece for themselves.
At first blush Mother! feels steeped in religion. Filled with allusions and biblical highlights that, in Aronofsky’s hands, have been interpreted to their worst, most wretched human degree. But faith aside, Aronofsky is a filmmaker whose body of work frequently explores the notion of obsession, creative ambition, and the ultimate price his characters pay in pursuit of that ambition. In Mother! Aronofsky thrives in mythologizing the Artist as a tortured god-like figure while also taking some very pointed jabs at religion and man’s often petulant devotion to it. Not one to stop there, he throw in a healthy dollop of all-too-topical (and sometimes too on-the-nose) symbolic imagery, and a mob of flesh hungry followers who overstay their (un)-welcome – a sort of Wes Craven’s Discreet Charm of the Religious Bourgeois – it’s enough to make your skin crawl at the thought of your next dinner party.
If there’s anything to complain about Mother!, and I admit this is a stretch, it’s that Aronofsky stuffs the film with an overabundance of themes. An allegorical portrait of a toxic, cancerous religion, a romanticized metaphor of artist-as-martyr and creator, the sacrifice of love and bond with your wife/partner/whatever for the hope that your art finds love and acceptance, and that it too gives love in return. Only to see it taken for granted, abandoned and then destroyed and repeated the process. Aronofsky would argue that art, and existence, is a futile exercise, careening toward a tragic end. It feels exhausting at times, but ultimately Aronofsky delivers a very satisfying, albeit sometimes shocking, experience. Certainly one that this viewer welcomes from an iconoclastic director like Mr. Aronofsky.
Mother! is now showing at Circle Cinema