Review: mother! is 2017’s best film that everyone will hate

Can you like a movie and hate it at the same time? Darren Aronofsky seems to think so, as mother! aims to push everyone’s buttons and cause the greatest film controversy of 2017.

This may be my hardest challenge not only as a film critic, but as a moviegoer. For most of it I couldn’t even begin to comprehend what I was experiencing, but I knew I wanted answers. Even when I “got” the film’s meaning, it was during one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve even seen on a film. It was shocking and heart-wrenching, but I couldn’t look away. After mother! was over, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

To think that mother! is being marketed as a horror film and it’s getting a wide release – more than 600 theaters in the US. This one is getting 2300(!) – is baffling.

Honestly, it took me two days to write this review because I wasn’t even sure I could describe what I saw. To even discuss what makes mother! good or bad I would need to mention what the film represents, which could be considered a spoiler. I decided I will briefly and kind of vaguely write about the merits of the film, before diving into spoiler territory at the end of the review.

If you watched the trailer, you may think you have an idea of what mother! is about. We follow mother – the lowercase is more important than you think – played by Jennifer Lawrence. She has completely restored the house she shares with her husband, Him (Javier Bardem). Yes, the age difference is important to the film, just wait. Him is a famous writer suffering from a bad case of writer’s block.

An image as simple as a housewife painting a wall becomes subject to a thousand think pieces in mother!

Almost the entirety of the film is set inside the house the titular mother is remodelling, except for a couple of wide shots from outside the house looking into the surrounded woods. Aronofsky and production designer Philip Messina found the perfect location for mother! the house feels absolutely alive, and they make it a point to subtly remind you of the older, damaged aspects of the house by contrasting it with opened buckets of paint and brushes scattered throughout the house.

The heart and soul of the film is Lawrence’s character, who is our entry point into the world of the film. Aronofsky’s regular cinematographer Matthew Libatique keeps the camera floating around Lawrence’s character. The camera is looking over her shoulder to see what she sees, or fixed on her face to see her reaction to the increasingly bizarre events happening around her. All of this is possible only because Lawrence is up to the task. She gives her best performance since she won the Oscar, and goes through more than I could imagine an actress being willing to go through. Specially one that is apparently dating the director of such a bizarre film.

Hers is a quiet, peaceful life. But then man (Ed Harris), and a woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) appear and everything changes. Aronofsky makes it a point to make even the most mundane things horrifying. Simply showing the house to what is supposed to be a guest in your house feels like a physical attack. You don’t know why, but you feel threatened by the strangers, and you remain at the edge of your seat even if Pfeiffer plays woman deliciously devilish but strangely charming.

Yes, the age difference between Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem is very relevant to the story of mother!

By the time the third act comes, the relatively simple plot goes away and reveals its metaphor to be part biblical retelling, part ecological preaching, part critique of how art hurts the artist’s loved ones. Aronofsky also cuts all the strings from the puppet that is mother! as the film loses any sense of linear narrative or reality. We enter a nightmarish world the likes of which you have never seen before. It is here that the film presents a sequence that is so unsettling and grim, that I wouldn’t be surprised if people walk out the theater and protest the film. Expect lots of controversy, specially from religious groups.

I generally dislike labelling something as “you either love it or hate it”, but in this case, it is actually true. Aronofsky has created a film meant to disturb and create an emotional response. You will loathe much of the film, and I’m not sure you can love the film, but you may love that it exists. It is hard for me to recommend paying full price for this film, but it could play much better with a full audience that will also be traumatized. One thing is for sure, you won’t be able to forget having seen mother!

Grade: Opening night

How I rate films

THIS IS A SPOILER WARNING. DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW ABOUT THE FILM’S ENDING

Okay, now that the review is out of the way. I truly need to discuss what I think is the meaning behind the film. Because for most of mother! I was expecting it to be more than meets the eye. The first poster for the film showed Jennifer Lawrence’s character with her chest literally opened and her heart in her hand. Then the second poster came and it was an obvious homage to Rosemary’s Baby. So, I was prepared for the film to have a deeper meaning.

But then during the actual film, I couldn’t for the life of me understand what was going on. There didn’t seem to be any deeper reason for anything other than “it looks good on camera”, and yet I was as scared of what was going on as mother.

Then halfway through this film it became clear that mother was meant to represent Mary, mother of Jesus. As soon as it clicked, my jaw opened and I started quietly laughing in the theater at the genius of the film. There was a reason Him was the only character whose name was capitalized. There was a reason they casted a way younger actress to play his wife.

Imagine if God was an actual human being. Imagine the entire New Testament happening in the span of a couple of hours. Imagine being Mary, having a child with the being you love more than anything in the world, including yourself, but who doesn’t love you as much as he loves literally everyone. Imagine bearing a child, and having hundreds of people revere him, how afraid you’d be at having hundreds of people invade your home because they want to see your child and your husband, and He being occupied with them and ignoring you.
Then imagine being Mary and witnessing the Holy Communion, as hundreds drink your child’s blood and eat his body. In what must be the most disturbing image of the year, it also gives you a lot to think about religion and its rituals.

Then as soon as I got home from the theater I started reading, and I see lots of interpretations vastly different from my own, as well as some that complimented it, like how the characters from early in the film were Adam, Even and their children. How Lawrence’s character refers to her house as “paradise” before the first men started coming in. But also ideas about how the film is actually about the way an artist sacrifices his or her personal life for their art, and how their loved ones suffer in being used as inspiration.

And then Aronofsky himself comes out and apparently says it is all a metaphor for Mother Earth, and while it makes sense, it can’t possibly be the only answer. All I am left with is the thought that mother! is more than what you yourself think about it. It is meant to be our collective interpretation. And it will continue to expand with more ideas and theories for years to come.

 

 

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