A couple's relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.
September 15, 2017
Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer
mother! (lower-case “m” and “!” by design) comes from lauded writer/director Darren Aronofsky; the filmmaker’s best-known works, Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan, both defied easy classification and were marketed as a drama and thriller respectively (though both ventured deep into horror territory). Requiem for a Dream is especially impactful and has maintained a strong hold on me since the first time I watched it (jaw on floor). “It absolutely is a horror movie,” I’ve been known to opine; it has body horror, jump scares, and psychological terror; it produces a palpable sense of dread that’s pervasive and devastating; it left me tearful, feeling abused, but thankful for the experience; as harrowing as it was, I knew I’d revisit the film many more times (and I have). So, when I heard mother! being marketed as a horror movie (not a drama or a thriller), perhaps I expected something that would crush me into a billion pieces. It was engrossed but the experience left me more intact than I had hoped it would. Just as I do with Requiem for a Dream, in fact, I feel that I will be forced justify mother!’s classification, because it challenges preconceptions surrounding the genre. The horror’s there, and it’s plentiful—but it doesn’t come in the ways you expect; even the clips you’ve seen in the trailers have been manipulated to seem more sinister than they actually are.
mother! created substantial buzz by marketing itself in a way that made its tropes and themes mysterious. There are very loud echoes of Rosemary’s Baby in the film’s posters and trailers, and this connection extends into the film itself; at the same time, mother! could also be a vampire flick, or a modern Gothic featuring a “hysterical” heroine whose sanity will be consistently challenged. mother! also looks like a unique spin on the home invasion subgenre of horror and, in many ways, it is. But the film doesn’t play by established cinematic mechanics, creating a vacuum where anything is possible. Telling readers what mother! isn’t, in this case, would be more of a spoiler as telling you what it is. The search for answers is part of the experience, and I appreciated that. Ultimately, we arrive in a scenario that’s completely impossible to predict—no matter how smart and insightful you are. There’s simply nothing that will prepare you for the trip mother! takes you on. Those adept at analyzing literary subtext, however, will know exactly what Aronofsky is trying to say; loud and clear.
Official Synopsis: A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence. From filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream), mother! stars Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer in this riveting psychological thriller about love, devotion, and sacrifice.
mother! is yet another example of metaphorical storytelling, an emerging subgenre best characterized by crown gems It Follows and The Babadook. The tropes and scenarios used to engage with mainstream viewers are surface only. The invisible entity or unknown/nebulous danger, and how these factor influence behaviors, is the real story. It Follows, some will argue, is about the consequences of 21st Century hook-up culture and The Babadook, others may maintain, is about the manifestations of grief/depression. Whatever action unfolds before our eyes, mother! isn’t about cults or manifestations or haunted houses—it’s about art. It’ll become more apparent as the journey progresses and you suddenly realize: No one in the film even has a name.
Expect the response to mother! to be intense and polarized; many will no doubt claim the film “isn’t even horror” and that it’s “boring” because many still only equate horror with slashers (blood, guts, and boobs). But even those who acknowledge and understand the terrifying subtexts will be divided. Jennifer Lawrence’s character, in my opinion, is a sad one; abused & confused, blind & oblivious and, for the most part, happy to be so. Javier Bardem isn’t very nice either: Selfish & shallow, talented yet misguided; a writer who abuses his muses. Their microcosm is constantly being invaded by interlopers who, while limitlessly intriguing, are unlikable annoyances. At times, mother! plays out like a grown-up version of The Cat and the Hat where Thing 1 and Thing 2 are played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer respectively.
The film opens with Lawrence waking from a nightmare; she gets out of bed and walks through the entirety of the house, as though giving a grand tour of her beautiful prison. When she thrusts open the door, confinement is juxtaposed against isolation. There are no paths or driveways leading to this house, making it clear that nothing exists beyond this limited geography. The viewers and the characters are in a snow globe, meaning this isn’t Earth or reality as we know it. Therefore, the nightmare never truly ends, as we struggle to understand a barrage of chaos through endless doses of hallucinatory tincture and gaslighting. It’s a state of existence both ethereal and Hellish, an infested Garden of Eden.
The film is long and feels more like 2 chapters than 3 acts; both halves are intriguing in their own way, and their connection is thematically apparent, but a concrete unity is never established. Part 1 is about riddles and suspense, while Part 2 is revelations and chaos. It’s an uneven ride that leaves its traveler feeling somewhat exhausted by the journey—happy when it finally ends. The film becomes a justification for the damaging effects the pursuit of art has on personal relationships; it’s an assertion I agree with, but wouldn’t necessarily celebrate. And that’s the thing about mother!: It’s a tragedy that plays out like a jubilee. Ironically, the film features a wake that evolves into a party, meaning this may well have been Aronofsky’s intentions from the get go. I don’t disagree with what I decipher within the subtext, I just find it clinical, nihilistic, and (frankly) mean. Whether this is the product of a creative ego acting out or the repentance of filmmaker who regrets his actions is yet another topic for debate.
Bottom Line: mother! made me mad and challenged me, which may very well be the film’s intended effect. This is not a traditional horror movie, rather something one might equate with the works of Lars Von Trier or David Lynch; at the same time, it’s completely unique. It’s a good movie, but I liked it less than both Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan, and I imagine most horror fans will also rate it below Aronofsky’s best. mother! may resonate with fans of metaphorical horror like It Follows, The Neon Demon, and The Babadook, but it’s very different from those films as well, cerebral and at times bat-shit fantastic. No one will say mother! isn’t an incredibly unique movie.