For its sheer audacity and imagination, Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! should currently be at the top of any serious cinephile’s list of current movies to see. There’s literally nothing else out there quite like this film, which is the type that people are likely to either love or hate. I’ll admit to being riveted the entire way through the film, which starts as an unsettling chamber piece and culminates in a sequence that is nothing short of apocalyptic.
This movie was one of the few cases in which I believe that I benefited by knowing – at least, to an extent – how to view the picture while watching it. Suffice it to say that things are not quite what they first appear to be in Mother! and it helped that I knew the context in which to view the film from the beginning. Most people will likely figure out what’s going on at some point while watching it, but my personal belief is that something is lost by making such a discovery later in the game since there’s so much interesting stuff going on during the opening scenes that a viewer might overlook.
So, here’s the deal: I find it near impossible to adequately address my thoughts on this picture without giving away some pretty significant details. In other words, if you continue to read this review, there will be some major spoilers. As I’d mentioned before, I found it to be somewhat of a bonus going into the movie knowing what I did. Others might not.
Still here? So, Mother! begins with a couple – one of whom is known as Him (Javier Bardem), while the other is known as Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) – who live alone in a secluded house that they refer to as their “paradise.” She’s trying to touch up the place, while he is focused on creating – and I use that word for a purpose. He’s a poet, but also much more on that. More on this in a minute.
Randomly, an intruder simply known as Man (Ed Harris) arrives and the poet’s attention is diverted to him, which annoys Lawrence’s character. Shortly after that, a character known as Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up – and after that, their two bickering sons, one of whom kills the other. Is this starting to sound familiar? Then, more people show up and begin wreaking havoc on the house, eventually breaking a sink that causes a flood, after which the visitors are all banned from the home.
Still not sounding familiar? There’s no point in me regurgitating the entire plot, but more people arrive shortly after Mother gives birth to a baby boy. They once again begin to take over the house until, finally, Mother has had enough. A tragic incident prompts her to action and the film ends in apocalyptic destruction. Then, ingeniously, the entire process begins again with a new woman in the house. The first and last word of the film – spoken first by Lawrence and then by the other woman upon awakening in an empty bed – is “Baby?”
So, here’s the deal. If you’ve read this far and want to walk into this experience blind, here’s your last chance. If you believe that knowing more would enhance your experience, then here it goes: Bardem’s character is God, Lawrence is Mother Earth, Harris is Adam, Pfeiffer is Eve, their sons are Cain and Abel, Lawrence’s baby is Jesus, the people who flood the house are mankind and, most importantly, the havoc they wreak is meant to represent the horrid way that humans have treated the Earth, which is represented as the house itself.
If this sounds off the wall, that’s exactly how it plays. But there’s something brilliant to the whole endeavor. Aronofsky – whose previous films Pi and Noah also take a cynic’s approach to religious matters in fascinating ways – takes risks that most filmmakers would go miles to avoid. The entire premise threatens to be ridiculous and there are moments when Mother! borders on it. The film is a bizarre home invasion thriller that represents the creation and destruction of mankind as told through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelations, but it’s also an eco thriller about humankind’s disregard for the place we call home.
No one gets off the hook here. As portrayed by Bardem, God is an egoist who continually attempts to placate the people who are wrecking his home and disrespecting his rules because he needs for his creation to worship him. When he realizes his creation has drifted way off the path, he allows for them to be destroyed and creates a world anew. The film’s opening sequence suggests that this wasn’t the first time he had attempted this.
Mankind comes off even worse – self centered, destructive, violent (as the house is overtaken by more and more visitors, random acts of cruelty and bloodletting take place in nearly every corner of the home), nihilistic and egocentric. In other words, this is not a date movie. Lawrence’s character is the only one meant to draw sympathy – and she, therefore, has the trickiest role since she is intended to be a cypher.
Aronofsky has long been a daring filmmaker. Pi was a brilliant debut that channeled the fever dreams of Eraserhead, while Requiem for a Dream is one of the most harrowing movies ever made about drug abuse. The Wrestler was a scrappy independent movie that was surprising at the time of its release as it was so stylistically different from Aronofsky’s other work and Black Swan was a fascinating thriller about the lengths to which artists sacrifice for their work.
Mother! blows the roof off, both literally and figuratively. It’s over the top, provocative and sure to anger some viewers. It’s also a spellbinding allegory that takes great risks. Admittedly, it’s not for everyone. If you consider yourself an adventurous moviegoer, you won’t want to miss it.