Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Harris
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
“What is the definition of a ‘movie’?” I found myself wondering as I exited the theater after a press screening of mother!, Darren Aronofsky’s latest film. I contemplated this throughout the rest of the day, curious how I define an entertainment format that I’ve dedicated so much of my life to. I pondered this because mother! was a profoundly powerful experience but a totally mystifying one at the same time, a film that assaulted my senses and left me, quite literally, unable to think properly. Never before has a film left me so discombobulated and at a loss for words. But what I knew from the moment that the credits began to roll is that I loved this movie and everything it put me through.
The basic gist of the story is that Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem are a husband/wife duo who live in a house in the middle of nowhere. He’s a poet who is in the midst of a writer’s block while she takes care of, quite literally, everything else around the house. She fixes the construction, she paints the rooms, she cooks and cleans, etc. What is difficult about this dynamic is that she doesn’t get any real appreciation for her work. Any notice of her efforts is cursory at best, resulting in her obvious dissatisfaction and sadness with how she is viewed.
Later, when Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer come to their home unannounced, Bardem invites them to stay, not even taking into consideration Lawrence’s thoughts on the matter, which she tries vocalizing. But he dismisses them much the same as he dismisses her work, leaving her clearly hurt and, in a strange and sad way, ashamed. But as events unravel and more and more interlopers of unknown origin descend upon their house, her timidity and subservience begins to crack; and her ability to stand for herself begins to shine. However, by the time that happens, could it be too late?
I don’t want to reveal any more events that take place during the film because some are so shocking while others are so poetically constructed that my attempt to describe them would be pale shades next to what they have to offer. Suffice it to say I sat through this film feeling relentless discomfort, was astounded by the visuals, and am still trying to figure out what it all means. The very presentation of the film and how it offers information is meant to disarm viewers and leave them in a state of unease.
For example, none of the characters have actual names. They are simply characters, much like in a play, who bear the titles of their roles. While at first this may not seem like such a strange move on Aronofsky’s part, it becomes all too troubling as we, the viewers, become much like the interlopers that force themselves upon Lawrence and Bardem’s home. We are unnamed voyeurs who bear witness to the unfolding events, powerless to stop any of it but eager to see where it all goes. We may feel horror and revulsion, but we stay in our seats, desperate to see this Wonderland-esque journey to its end.
Claustrophobically filmed, mother! insists on making the viewers remain in the thick of the insane chaos that unfolds. Furthermore, the lack of a traditional score only serves to make the movie all the more focused. Phenomenal use of sound design makes every scene creak and moan, as though there will be an explosion of catastrophic proportions at any moment. Razor-sharp tension starts from the very first moment and holds through until the credits roll.
Now, is this movie horror? I argue yes. In fact, I argue that it’s one of the most pure visions of horror I’ve seen in a while. At the same time, it’s a perverted tale of romance, albeit utterly one-sided and horribly awry. It’s pure art-house cinema that boggles the mind as to how it’s getting a wide release. In fact, everything about mother! is delightfully confounding, and I can’t help but revel in this madness.
mother! will no doubt be one of the most polarizing films of the year, but therein lie its beauty and its importance. Whether you love it or hate it, mother! will leave you shaken and inspired while forcing you to spend hours, if not days, reflecting on the phantasmagoria you were witness to.