In 2010, writer/director Darren Aronofsky created Black Swan. A bountiful box office permitted the helmer to make any movie he wanted, and he chose 2014’s Noah, a lumbering, CGI-laden study of faith and survival. It didn’t click with audiences, forcing the filmmaker to retreat to his low-budget imagination.
Now he’s come up with Mother!, once again tempting the audience with insanity, only the results are far more esoteric and protracted. Aronofsky is so busy polishing the grotesqueries, he neglects to actually tell a story.
Photo courtesy of Protozoa Pictures
Jennifer Lawrence delivers a committed performance in Mother! What she’s committing to is open for debate.
In a house in the middle of nowhere, writer Him (Javier Bardem) is settling into married life with Mother (Jennifer Lawrence). Their union is cold and sexless, but Mother tries to make a happy home, tending to its decoration and rehabilitation, while meeting her spouse’s needs.
One day, Man (Ed Harris) arrives, pretending to mistake the house for a bed and breakfast. He’s looking for shelter and a chance to get closer to Him, admitting he’s a fan. Inviting Man to stay, Him doesn’t consult with Mother, who tries to contain her irritation.
Things grow stranger when Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up and the couple begin a campaign to push Mother around, making themselves a nuisance while Him remains aloof, leaving his wife to suffer as the houseguests spawn an uprising of epic proportions.
To his credit, Aronofsky doesn’t hide his mission to blur reality. Nothing is certain in Mother!, with the exception of the 16mm cinematography by Matthew Libatique, which remains glued to Mother in close-ups. At least 75 percent of the feature is concerned, shocked, and angry looks from Lawrence, who delivers a committed performance. What she’s committing to is open for debate.
The arrival of Man complicates Mother!, which begins to play like a Houseguest-from-Hell movie. If there’s any suspense in Aronofsky’s screenplay, it’s found here, with Man’s bizarre actions and unnervingly rehearsed intrusion, soon joined by Woman, who’s even more of a problem, though she presents herself as a pal to Mother. But, like everything else, she’s not quite what she seems.
Things grow complicated as Mother and Him are visited by more strangers. Or perhaps they’re fans. Or maybe they’re a threat. It’s all highly interpretive, touching on the extremity of fame, the madness of creation, and the helmer’s obsession with religion. Mother! could be about environmentalism, or God’s inability to control his creation, or the nightmare of hospitality, or the destructive nature of life itself. It could be about rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time—who knows? The dream logic doesn’t invite deeper inspection.
Mother! is meant to be endured, not decoded, and the cruel reality is how uninteresting its working parts are. It’s certainly creative, but it feels masturbatory, especially from a director who’s touched greatness before (with The Fountain and The Wrestler, both featuring earthbound emotion). Mother! hides behind the “art inspires argument” justification, but there should be more to chew on than vague weirdness and flaccid acts of intimidation that come dangerously close to self-parody.