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Movie Review: 'mother!'

A movie lover his entire life, Jonathan concentrated in Film Studies as an undergraduate.


This thought-provoking film just dares you to put it in a box or slap a label on it, and refuses to completely yield to any single interpretation.

Chances are you will either love this movie or think it is one of the worst things you’ve ever seen. When I left the theater, I wasn’t sure which one of those sentiments applied to me. All I knew was that it had an impact, part of which was to make my anxiety skyrocket.

This movie is a lot of things at once, one of them being a horror film. There are numerous levels to it, but on one level it is certainly an allegory (for what, I’ll let you decide). It is rife with metaphors, some easily solvable, others not so much (that mysterious yellow drink, for example). You probably haven’t seen anything quite like it at the movies before, even if you are familiar with Darren Aronofsky’s work.

A couple, unnamed except in the credits where they are listed as “Him” and “mother”, is played by Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence. They live in a sprawling, octagonal house in the middle of a field that is surrounded by woods. There is no driveway, no internet, and no cell-phone service. They recently rebuilt the house after a fire. The Jennifer Lawrence character is refurbishing and repainting it entirely on her own, a job she seems to enjoy. "I want to make a paradise" she says of the dwelling. The house appears to be a living entity, and occasionally mother puts her head against the wall to listen to its literal heartbeat. Her husband is a little older than her and is a writer, but lately he’s been unable to write. He lacks inspiration. One night, a stranger (played by Ed Harris) knocks on the door. He tells the couple he mistakenly thought their home was a bed and breakfast. The writer welcomes him in, to his wife’s puzzlement. From there, it all gets a little, well, strange. In a nutshell, the arrival of the stranger triggers a chain of events whereby more guests, uninvited and unwanted by mother, stream into the house and demand more of the writer’s wife than she cares to give. About a half-hour in, we start to realize what is going on and what (or who) some of these characters represent.

Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence in mother! (2017)

Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence in mother! (2017)

If you are a fan of this director’s previous films, you will most likely love this one. If you find his work baffling and frustrating, you will probably find this one the most frustrating of all. I have for a long time been a big fan of Aronofsky’s. His films are anxiety-inducing in the best way possible. He is a master of paranoia, delusion, and frenzy, and is never afraid to go to extremes. His incredible Requiem For a Dream is one of the most disturbing and upsetting movies I have ever seen. But even for Aronofsky, mother! is a bold gesture.

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Like his 2010 film Black Swan, about a dedicated ballerina suffering a mental breakdown, mother! tightly follows a troubled female protagonist, with the camera often trailing closely behind her or focused directly on her face. And like Nina Sayers, the protagonist in the aforementioned film, mother often sees things we aren’t sure are actually there. A heart floating in the toilet, for example, or a lightbulb dripping with blood.

The very close (and often claustrophobic) style makes us feel a part of, and sometimes trapped in, what is taking place on screen. One of the reasons this film caused me so much anxiety is that as it accelerates and follows mother from room to room, struggling through the crowd, I felt caught with her in the frenzied, violent masses.

It is remarkable how quickly and smoothly Aronofsky escalates situations, and how he is able to cover so much in so little time. This will make sense if you see the film, which allegorically encompasses many years in a matter of minutes.

While this movie is largely metaphorical, it is not as simple as identifying the symbols and “solving” the allegory. Great works of art never are. This thought-provoking film just dares you to put it in a box or slap a label on it, and refuses to completely yield to any single interpretation. It is a great many things at once, including (but not limited to) a horror film, a black comedy, a psychological thriller, a biblical allegory, and a film about environmental destruction.

mother! is a crazy, disturbing, and wonderful experiment, and the more I think about it, the more brilliant I’m convinced it is. Is it a great work of art? Maybe. All I know is, this movie welcomed itself deep into my brain and refused to leave. My guess is it’ll be there for a while, no matter how much I scream “GET OUT!” at the top of my lungs.

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