‘Mother!’ Needs Your Attention

by Ben Martin

First thing’s first, I want to be up-front and tell you that Darren Aronofsky is one of my favorite filmmakers. Since my first exposure to his work with Requiem for a Dream (2000), I was hooked. (Though Requiem guaranteed I’d never touch heroin or other hard drugs.) That film also proved that, aside from being a natural born filmmaker, Aronofsky was capable of making what I would phrase as, “naturalistic horror films.”
When I use that term, I’m not referring to the traditional supernatural, blood and gore or even real-life serial killers associated with horror. Instead, I’m talking about stories of characters in horrible, scary and real situations. Naturalistic horror film or not, the director’s entire filmography deals with themes of obsession and desperation. His newest effort, mother!, is another one of these stories.

(Before I dive into the plot synopsis, it should be noted that none of the film’s characters have proper names. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to refer to the characters by the actors’ names.)
Mother! tells the story of a couple who resides in a large house out in the deserted countryside. Their abode burned down years ago when only the husband, “Him” (Javier Bardem) lived there. But, when the film opens it is clear that the house has had extensive rebuilding and remodeling done to it. All this is thanks to his wife, “Mother” (Jennifer Lawrence) who has done most of the reconstruction.
Meanwhile, her husband, a poet with writer’s block sits at his desk, producing nothing. (Though as I writer I can say that it can’t help that Jennifer Lawrence’s character is quite often just staring at Bardem as he tries to write.) Despite the couple’s proximity, they seem to have no real connection. It’s evident that they once had one; but when we find them in this film, it seems the flames between them have burned out. They have no real conversations, and beyond that, Bardem seems to be trying to avoid making love, despite Lawrence’s efforts. Then one day, out of the blue; something peculiar happens. “Man,” played by Ed Harris and his wife, “Woman,” played by Michelle Pfeiffer show up at the house, claiming they thought it was a bed and breakfast. Despite the odd, almost unsettling nature of this situation, Bardem invites them to stay, ignoring Lawrence’s protest. From there, I can’t say much except more uninvited guests show up, and a baby is conceived as the plot thickens. To say anything more would do a disservice to you and the film.

From this film’s opening moments , it’s uncomfortable tone is set. Working with his usual cinematographer, Matthew Libatique (The Circle), Aronofsky immediately puts you the house with the troubled couple. It takes a few moments to notice, but when watching the film, you realize the camera’s just a little too close. As a viewer, you’ll feel as if you are close enough to the actor you see onscreen to breathe on them. This method of cinematography is employed for the first 5-10 minutes of them, and it successfully builds a feeling of uncomfortable claustrophobia. In turn, you feel like an invisible guest in the house, just as much a part of the story as the rest of its characters.
Every member of the cast gives engrossing performances. Each of which adds to the tension and mystery of mother! Thus, as an audience member, you are invested. That is if you can appreciate this movie’s pacing. It’s a slow-boil mystery, so if you aren’t able to get invested, you’ll likely be bored. The mysterious atmosphere mother! creates is similar to that of Roman Polanski’s horror films. Granted it doesn’t quite reach what it emulates, but gets close. The movie’s pacing is it’s only real issue; though that’s compensated for as the third act explodes into violence and chaos. It is in the final act that everything gets horrific; earning mother! it’s R rating. All of it ratcheting up to a conclusion that is open for interpretation by the respective viewer. To me, this is where the film’s real power comes in.
Mother! is truly a piece of art and like all art, it is not for everyone. The film can be interpreted in several different ways as metaphorical or allegorical. Is it about a couple’s love dying, due to art being put ahead of everything? Could it be that the film is a metaphor for God & creation? (Many subscribe to this due to the director’s penchant for such a theme,  a-la his previous effort, Noah (2014).) Or, is it that the characters are in Hell?
These aforementioned interpretations are the most popular ones. Personally, I currently feel it’s a combination of all this; however, I’m sure I will be analyzing this film for awhile. Therefore, if you like to think about and interpret art, or simply have an appreciation for art, I recommend mother! to you. On the other hand, maybe this doesn’t seem to be your cup of tea. Even so, I’d say to still give it a go because mother! will provide you with an experience you won’t soon forget.
‘mother!’ is Now Playing Nationwide.

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