Mother Movie Review – Deliciously Frustrating
If I were to throw out a “critic quote”, something for the marketing folks over at Paramount to grab onto, and plaster across billboards and print ads the world-wide – my thoughts on Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! might be best summed up with this phrase: “Deliciously frustrating”.
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy this already-divisive film (it’s been out for less than two weeks)…quite the contrary.
But as I sort through my thoughts, it’ll take far longer than a few hours to come to conclusions about the substance, the style and the lingering effects of the film.
However, I’ll do my best to lay it all out on the table for you – just mere hours after completing my screening. There’s a lot to get to…
An unnamed couple (they’re listed as simply “Mother” and “Him” on IMDb) with a sizable age gap between them (played by Oscar-winners Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem) live in a beautiful old house, which she has single-handedly restored to its former glory. It was burned in a fire long ago, and we’ll come to learn that it was his childhood house. They live a solitary existence. He struggles to regain his muse – in order to continue his formerly successful writing career, and she continues to beautify the home. When a sickly man (Oscar-nominee Ed Harris) and his prying wife (Oscar-nominee Michelle Pfeiffer) suddenly arrive and are invited to stay by Bardem’s character – Lawrence and Bardem’s characters’ tranquil existence becomes disheveled and ultimately dangerous.
Much of what will be discussed in this review could be considered spoiler-ish (without directly spelling things out), so read on with some caution.
The film is clearly religious in nature. There are call-outs to such Biblical parables like Cain and Abel and Mary and Joseph. There’s the use of images referencing stigmata, the Ash Wednesday holiday and the idea of communion – “Take. Eat. This is my body.” The film is wall-to-wall plastered (Venetian?) with religious ideas, thoughts and situations.
And even if many of the details may be lost to some audience members – one thing is certain. The overriding message (as least as I see it) could be considered blasphemous. This take on “keeping things going as they’ve always gone” is delicious if you’re anti-religion. If you’re a religious person (namely Christianity), you may take offense at what the big idea is in Mother!
I think the ultimate mark of a successful film – whether your first instinct was to despise it or praise it – is whether is made you think. Did it spark conversation? Did you think about it for hours, days or even weeks following your screening? Did you find a deeper meaning different from that of other viewers?Plenty of options for what you could potentially take away from a film like Mother!
That means something, right?
I was enamored by the performances from the central cast. Lawrence is perfectly cast as the confused and somewhat mousy housewife. She easily brings the audience along with her – as the character is just as out-of-the-loop as the audience is. What I most enjoyed about Lawrence’s performance (helped along by how her scenes were shot – I didn’t like it in general – see below) was the constant coverage of her reactions. We know Lawrence can properly emote and can produce the water-works when needed (she does that all so well), but I loved watching her watch the other characters. Early on in the film, she puts a log on the fire and sits down in Bardem’s private office in the home – and proceeds to watch him work. We get the same thing when she has her first sit-down opposite Harris and Pfeiffer’s characters. Just watch her face (we can see her thoughts) when she silently listens to the conversation. Beautiful stuff.
Bardem has a lot more to do (dialogue-wise), and of course – he does everything well. The character is terribly manipulative (a major plot point if you read the film’s theme as I did) and Bardem perfectly splits his time between absolutely loving Lawrence’s character and completely ignoring her needs. Just thinking about all the things that could mean in the film – makes me squeal with delight.
As the imposing guests (simply called “Man” and “Woman”), Harris and Pfeiffer are properly irritating, but nevertheless – intriguing. And Pfeiffer pretty much steals the show. One sequence involving Harris’ and Pfeiffer’s characters (and some additional uninvited guests into the home) – is a particularly strong acting scene for the entire cast. I’m nodding my head in appreciation just thinking about it.
I can’t recall a time when I was quite so animated while watching a film. The first hour is so frustrating (see my “critic quote” above) – but in a marvelously appetizing way. You know from the get-go that Lawrence’s character deals with perfectionism and perhaps a little OCD. So watching her perfectly-manicured home being taken over by disrespectful strangers (who smoke no less!) will have you fidgeting in your seats!
But there’s more than than. I always draw out any film which deals with paranoia or big questions yearning to be answered, by calling out the Polanski classic, Rosemary’s Baby. And it’s no coincidence that the marketing folks behind Mother! used an updated version of that film’s poster art to promote their own film. It’s a very uncomfortable film in that regard. So in addition to the very high-brow nature of the film as a whole, it never lets you rest. And I think those two qualities (depending on how you see the film) is why the piece may be generally panned by the movie-going public.
It’s not an easy film, and certainly not for folks looking for something fast-paced or for people looking for simple cinematic escapism. It’ll make you think. And I think that “scratching your head” will last for a good long while, even though I have very specific thoughts on what it all means.
There’s a sequence later in the film, which was so genuinely hypnotic – the editing was off-the-hook – that were the Oscars to nominate individual scenes, this piece could well be crowned a big winner. As the camera follows Lawrence’s character through the house, the location changes, the people multiply and the situations shift. Obviously not shot in one take, but it feels like that – and this sequence alone would be worthy of deeper study.
But on that note, I wasn’t in love with the way the film was shot. It’s clearly important that the only person who gets – what I’ll call the “go-pro” treatment – is Lawrence. Aronofsky used a similar technique in other films (Black Swan is the first thing which comes to mind), but it was used continuously in Mother! It took some getting used to, but eventually you’ll come to accept it. However, the jury’s still out on whether I dug it or hated it. But I can say, when used in the brilliant sequence mentioned above – it was perfect and a must to properly tell the story.
I can see why many won’t like this film, won’t get it or might even hate it. But the cast is filled out by Oscar-winning or Oscar-nominated pros doing their very best work, enough symbolism to choke even the most veteran communion-takers and a central idea which is wide open for interpretation.
For my money, Mother! is a winner!
It’s currently playing in theatres nationwide.