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mother! (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 15, 2020


mother! (2017)

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Brian Gleeson, Domhnall Gleeson, Kristen Wiig, Stephen McHattie, Jovan Adepo, Amanda Chiu, Patricia Summersett, Eric Davis, Raphael Grosz-Harvey, Cristina Rosato and Emily Hampshire.

Screenplay by Darren Aronofsky.

Directed by Darren Aronofsky.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures. 121 minutes. Rated R.

It must be a very strange experience to be inside Darren Aronofsky’s head, if his movies are any indication. More than most any other “legitimate” director, with the possible exception of David Lynch or Charlie Kaufman, Aronofsky’s films are densely surreal and artistically inscrutable.

He made his name as a talent to watch with the gonzo freakout Pi and followed it up with the surreally pitch-dark fever dream Requiem for a Dream. For a few years he even attempted to be semi-accessible for a while, making a sports film (The Wrestler), an arty drama (The Black Swan) and even a biblical epic (Noah). But even when he tried to tie his imagination down to set genres, his oddball instincts still stood out (there were prehistoric id monsters in the attempted straight religious telling of Noah’s ark, for goodness sake).

mother! is the most blatantly off-the-wall and dreamlike film Aronofsky has done since The Fountain, which was arguably his most critically detested film, though Noah also got more than its share of harsh reviews.

mother! is a fascinating film, visually rich, well-acted, mysterious, dreamlike, symbolically astute, a Dadaist view of life, death, and particularly physical and emotional violence against women. As far as the story goes, it makes little to no sense, but that was sort of the point.

There will be many people who like the film… well, “like” or “enjoy” is the wrong word in this case. Respect is more like it. Whether you find mother! brilliant or banal, I think very few people will be able to say that it was a pleasant film to watch. (And I’m not sure I’d want to know the ones who would.)

The film takes place pretty much entirely in a gorgeous Victorian manor house, smack dab in the middle of nowhere. (All we can see around it are a big field and a large wooded area.)

A twenty-something woman (none of the characters are given names) played by Jennifer Lawrence lives at the house with her older husband (Javier Bardem), a poet who had once found fame as an author, but now seems to have been stricken by a massive case of writer’s block.

There was a fire sometime in the vague past (time does not have much sway in this universe) and the wife is helping her husband to rebuild his childhood home. Actually, she seems to be doing most of the work herself.

One night a mysterious doctor (Ed Harris) shows up on their door. He seems ill, and then he is not. The poet invites him to stay with them, only to find out the fact that the doctor is also something of a crazed fan of his work. Still, the poet is amused by the company, and he continues to be hospitable as the doctor’s jaded wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up, and then later their squabbling adult sons (Brian and Domhnall Gleeson).

I won’t go any deeper into the plot, partially because of spoilers and partially because it is simply difficult to explain what happens from here on in. You just have to experience it.

That said, there is a returning theme which continues throughout the film. The young wife gives and gives and gives to her husband, and he never returns the love and care. Instead, he is seduced by the adulation of his fans, putting their appreciation and love above that of his wife.

It is extremely well acted, though Lawrence is given something of a thankless role in the lead. Things get worse and worse in the young woman’s life, she is subjected to mental and physical torment through a series of surreal plot twists, to the point that you begin to question her sanity. In fact, throughout the film it is hard to figure out how much is really happening and how much is just in her head.

mother! is a confounding, but strangely seductive film, a nightmarish journey into the heart of darkness and a bleak expose on the human condition. It is the type of movie that will cause strong reactions, both positively and negatively. There is no way to be tepid about it, which is a good thing in a work of art. I was mostly impressed by it, though I would be lying if I said I could explain what Aronofsky’s point in making it was supposed to be.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: December 18, 2017.

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