Runtime: 2 hours 1 minute
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, provocative filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) has once again graced the limelight, three years after the release of his divisive biblical retelling Noah (2014) with yet another divisive feature that will, and has, upset a large subset of the film community. Like every single one of his previous films, Mother! pushes the envelope for conventional storytelling while also providing a cogent, visceral commentary on the historical identity of our civilization, the state of humanity’s collective self-awareness, and our relationship with the Earth, our home.
It’s impossible to say what Mother! is really about without going into specific, interpretive details. So without spoilers, Mother! follows a nameless couple, played by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, as a number of uninvited guests converge on their pastoral home, throwing their peaceful, paradise-like life in to disarray.
Mother! is many things at once: a commentary on relationship politics, the consequences of fame, and the existential entitlement of mankind. But above all that, the one word that I feel best encompasses the message of the film is creation. Bardem plays a presumably famous poet on a creative dry spell whose past and future work drives the progression of the plot. Lawrence is Bardem’s much younger, trophy-wife who has taken it upon herself to rebuild his old home that had burned down some time prior. Both Bardem’s and Lawrence’s agency to create drives and motivates the plot in unexpected ways, and once the film’s “allegory” becomes clear, they both begin to also epitomize the truth of our global community.
In addition to his thematic poignancy, Aronofsky outdoes himself on a technical level. The camera work of Mother! is perpetually unsettling. The camera orbits around Lawrence in an uneasy, fluid-like form, creating an atmosphere of constant anxiety and dread. The sound design envelopes you, as if you too have the same spiritual connection that Jennifer Lawrence has to the house. Finally, the final act of the film, the “fever dream” as Aronofsky defines it, is a masterful exercise of technical staging, rivaling scenes like the climatic single-take battle scene from Children of Men and the infamous ending montage from Aronofsky’s second feature, Requiem for a Dream.
Mother! is guaranteed to inspire intense passions from both sides of the critical spectrum. For some, the film is nothing more than a ham-fisted allegory that was falsely advertised. For others, the film is an unexpected surprise that articulates narratively taboo abstractions as well as the root of the world’s current problems in a provocative and entertaining way. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, Mother! is a must-see experience solely on the grounds of the sheer ambition of the content.
Mother! is, in my opinion, the best film of the year (tied with Dunkirk), but not for the reason you may think. And while this article is rather scarce on the specifics of why I feel the film is so important, the explicit reasons will be detailed in the next part of my Mother! review.