The Upsetting, Abstract and Cruel Brilliance of “Mother!”

Illustration by Iain Duffus
Illustration by Iain Duffus

“Mother!” is near impossible to review. I don’t want to ruin the unique experience someone might have in watching this film, but alas, it’s my job. Darren Aronofsky made a wide-release art film that will upset most audiences who are too caught up in the cruel and unusual imagery to even attempt to understand what’s going on screenplay wise.

On the surface, this film tells the story of a wife and husband who are going through a rough patch in their marriage. The wife, played by Jennifer Lawrence, has spent countless hours rebuilding their house to please her husband, played by Javier Bardem.

The husband is a writer going through writer’s block, but when a random couple who are fans of his show up, the husband takes more to them than he does to his wife. The tension between the two builds as more people show up and they simply won’t leave.

Jennifer Lawrence gives a quiet but powerful performance that is fascinating to watch, exuding innocence, but conveying a hint of bubbling frustration. Lawrence’s performance is important, because Aronofsky focuses on her by having the camera constantly on her face in claustrophobic close-ups. The camera never leaves her side, even with its point-of-view shots.

Because of this, “Mother!” is able to capture anxiety like I’ve never seen before. The entire film had my heart racing because I was forced to mirror Lawrence’s emotions of anxious confusion as her character is just as unsure as I was about what exactly is going on. The audience can never escape the deliberate and unnerving spiral into insanity.

The other characters in the film are simple but are portrayed by experienced actors who have an understanding of what they’re supposed to do. To explain further would ruin the film — just know that the fact that no one has a name outside of vague titles like “Him” or “Oldest Son” is intentional.

The first act “Mother!” threatens to easily fall into the category of messy pretentious art films. However by second and third acts Aronofsky reveals the true themes and meanings behind the film, even if a bit obviously.

As with any film from Aronofsky, highlights being “Black Swan,” “The Wrestler,” and “Requiem for a Dream,” this movie mostly follows the downfall of a single character in a brutal and depressing fashion. What sets “Mother!” apart is that it not only enters the realms of the bizarre and nearly unwatchable but embraces the abstract.

The final act is beyond stressful, cruel, and bizarre. There’s an extended sequence where the film tapped into my greatest social anxiety fears, to the point where I felt like I was having a panic attack. I almost left the theater, but I was so enthralled that I sat through upsetting scene after a distressing moment just to try and make sense of it.

I’m not sure if I have all the answers, or if I ever will. What I can say is that “Mother!” is a bold, visceral, unapologetic bombshell of an experience that I doubt I will forget. Most importantly, Aronofsky isn’t trying to hide what his film is actually about.

While there are many interpretations of what the point is, the film encourages the audience to discuss their ideas. There are times where it feels like the movie is screaming at you, expecting you to figure it all out. Yet, the scream isn’t angry, it’s infectious, inviting you to look closer and expand your thoughts.

Most people will hate “Mother!” I personally consider it one of the best and most unique movies I’ve seen all year. Take that as you will.

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Samuel Goodrich, Staff Writer

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