Overview: A happy couple’s world is invaded by both natural and supernatural force. Paramount Pictures; 2017; Rated R; 121 minutes.
Inspired!: Art is meant to inspire. The best art, or worst, depending on your perspective, rips feeling out of you, seemingly against your will. This is actually more rare in film than one might think. The vast majority of movie-going experiences are viewed, remembered for a day or two, and then completely forgotten. It is the joy and the sorrow of a visual, fleeting medium. Yes, one can purchase a movie and have physical or streaming copies, but that is exactly what they are, copies. The experience of watching art for the first time is special. There is room for all types of film, some for specific audiences, and some especially meant to inspire strong emotions. mother! is absolutely one of those special films. Love it or hate it, you are going to talk about it, remember it, and maybe even struggle to shake it from your brain.
Spiritual Awakening: Speaking of loving or hating, director Darren Aronofsky never fails to draw these reactions. He has a tendency to delve into darkness and focus on the spiritual, which is always a surefire way to light a fire under the viewer. In the case of mother!, Aronofsky takes a certain despicable joy in putting the audience, as well as his cast, through the wringer. Using mainly nameless characters, he forces us to live exactly what Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) experiences. This is not pleasant, even in the best of times. Despite a loving relationship, she feels ignored and sometimes left behind. Her position of support does not enable active agency. This film, along with her performance, is completely unexpected. There is a breathy quality to her appearance and voice, which helps to remove the J-Law mystique almost immediately. Her delicacy and strength seem at war within her. As her righteous anger builds, there is a genuine worry that it will overpower and envelop the film, as well as the relationship with her partner. Javier Bardem, playing that partner, an artist known only as Him, shows us the full range of the emotions of creation. At one moment, he is doting and caring, at another he is a raging force of destruction. Because of this range, Him keeps us, and Mother, at a distance, never able to truly question his motives or connect with him deeply.
No Relief: Aronofsky’s hold on the film is evident by the almost languid pace of the plotting and character introductions. These decisions in writing, also from Aronofsky, again connect us to Mother as her world is slowly invaded on all sides. Her dream of a solitary life with Him is slowly chipped away with every choice he makes that drives them apart, both physically and emotionally. The invasions range from annoyances like cigarette smoke inside from uninvited guest, Man (Ed Harris) and petty comments from his wife, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), to violent offenses from which there is no turning back. mother! leaves us constantly wishing for some relief (of any kind) for the protagonist, but these affronts continue to escalate, enabling the feelings of panic and helplessness brought to the surface by Lawrence to resonate. Bardem’s kindly eyes and gentle smiles in moments of happiness do present a forced sense of calm, but that emotional instability never leaves us on solid ground. Aronofsky’s control, while examining a descent into madness, cements him as one of our most daring directors working today.
Enduring Themes: Much will be made of what mother! is “actually about.” There is clear symbolism peppered through the first act, and when that comes to fruition, it is certainly one way to view the film. But this is mother!’s greatest strength. Depending on the lens it is viewed through, there can be something to latch on to for just about every viewer. Aronofsky explores biblical themes, creativity, celebrity worship, and even marriage, all in the space of two hours. As the film teeters on the edge of insanity, Aronofsky takes risks that will undoubtedly illicit the most extreme reactions. Either you are with mother! and the ride will take you to the precipice or you will turn against it as the sparks fly under the wheels. The third act of mother! truly tests how much the audience can take. In no way is it meant to be easy to sit through. mother! is an endurance trial. The pain, punishment, and terror is palpable, and leaves us again searching for a way out until Aronofsky finally loosens his hold as the credits roll.
Overall: Darren Aronofsky creates a challenging, artistic, beautiful film that is sure to inspire strong reactions from both sides. Jennifer Lawrence, in a strikingly different performance, draws us in too close for comfort with the help of supporting performances from Pfeiffer, Harris, and Bardem. A film that explores many themes, and handles them all expertly, mother! will keep audiences talking for hours after it ends.
Featured Image: Paramount Pictures