Mother! has been called a “punk movie,” a “fever dream,” a “divisive” experience, and a “box-office debacle.”
I don’t think a traditional review of Mother! would be effective. But I did want to wrestle a little with the movie. Darren Aronofsky’s allegorical thriller has appalled, energized, and confused audiences since it opened. When friends ask if I liked the movie, I just basically open my mouth and nothing comes out.
Aronofsky keeps his claustrophobic camera focused on his protege Jennifer Lawrence. He follows her as she weaves through her vast Victorian house, a home she and husband Javier Bardem share in a secluded “paradise.” (That’s what she calls it.) Lawrence doesn’t have a name; she is credited as Mother. She and Bardem are isolated at first, while she fixes up their perfect home. But her paradise is soon surrendered: Ed Harris arrives in the dead of night to stay, followed the next day by his serpentine wife, Michelle Pfeiffer (who, by the way, is divinely devilish). Soon the house is crawling with intruders, purported fans of Bardem’s published poetry, and Mother can’t get them to leave.
For the first two-thirds, Mother! follows the path of haunted-house movies before it, pulling from a rich genre spanning Repulsion and The Others to the second Mrs. De Winter in Rebecca, held captive in a manse haunted by spirits. References to Rosemary’s Baby abound with Lawrence’s pregnancy; the marketing even parodied the Polanski movie’s posters. But then Aronofsky veers sharply away from the Polanski model, from what we expected into a new, terrifyingly absurd ending that might turn you off.
I had trouble going along with Aronofsky at the end. He’s been very explicit about his allegorical intent in interviews: the Bible, climate change, and our horrific destruction of our planet. Many critics have written about fame, self-adulation, and ego. The eternal quest for perfection—tearing everything down and starting over. But the manic, grotesque plot twists are hugely distancing. By the end, I wasn’t engaged in the primary story, and my identification with Lawrence’s doe-eyed wood sprite was fading. To realize his terrifying vision, Aronofsky goes all-in on metaphor. His directorial mind is disturbing and comically dark, yet there’s a feeling of emptiness in the final moments. Nothing seems to matter—not Lawrence’s Mother nor any other characters, if we can call them that—except for Aronofsky’s lecture on our apocalyptic instincts.
Mother! grows in the memory, even as I remember the unpleasantness of sitting through it. Was it unpleasant because I wasn’t ready? Or because the drums of Revelations became thuddingly obvious in the last ten minutes? Maybe because there are so many allegorical interpretations, it’s best not to think too closely. (If Bardem is God, then does Lawrence represent the earth and the Virgin Mary?)
Did I enjoy watching Mother!? Yes and no. Will I watch it again? Maybe a year from now—if we’re even here still.