It’s always the mother’s fault…
Main Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem
Director: Darren Aronofsky
A lot of people hate this movie. Hate it a lot. In fact, it has been nominated for a bunch of Razzie Awards for being shitty (also some other actual nominations for being good – but those aren’t as fun). However…a lot of people also love Mother!. A lot. So why the disconnect? Let’s have a look, shall we?
Mother! Is the brainchild of writer/director Aronofsky, who supposedly blurted the first draft from brain to paper in less than a week. Overwhelmed by the sheer volume of madness in the world, he came up with a horror movie filled with symbolism and allegory and metaphor and all sorts of Things That Mean Other Things. More on that in a little bit.
First, the basics. Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem star as a couple (never named) who live in an out of the way house lovingly restored by her after a fire burned down his ancestral home. He is a writer; she lovingly supports and encourages him even though he is frustrated by writer’s block. When the abrupt arrival of guests disrupts their routine, she is distraught while he is delighted. She wants her sacred space; he dismisses her wishes in favor of catering to an ever increasingly fawning swarm of guests.
As the movie progresses, it becomes more and more fantastical and clearly in no way a traditional horror movie. The symbolism spins into high gear as the movie becomes frantic and overwhelming, for the audience and for Lawrence’s character.
So, how well does it work – on any level? As a pure horror movie it’s just average. At about the halfway point we realize that we aren’t going to return to any sort of reasonable approximation of the world and have to accept that any investment we’ve made into the characters was for naught. Which is a bummer. However…there are some scenes in there that while they might not be traditionally terrifying might well be relatable to others like me who have most definitely felt the need at some point to scream at everyone to get out of our spaces and leave us alone – this is the kind of nightmare people like us might very well have. But other scares? Once we leave reality it isn’t scary at all.
Now what about all the symbolism and such? I don’t really want to give too much away, but you might finish the film and feel like you need someone to explain it to you. I did. But once it all starts to sink in, you begin to make the connections and it’s actually quite delightful. Several days later I was still having little epiphanies about what some scene or another was meant to represent, which was fun and to me a good indication that Mother! stuck in my brain.
I’ve seen plenty of commentary on how pretentious Mother! is – and yet each and every one of them act as if they understood every bit of allegory and symbolism immediately, and how dare Aronofsky think we are all so dumb as to be taken in by something so shallow and blah, blah, blah. Basically, a bunch of people obnoxiously lamenting the pretentiousness of something they claim was too stupid for their pompous selves. Yeah, no. Ignore them.
Now, you might not appreciate what Aronofsky is trying to say about the world – his take on things matched up pretty well with my world view. If it does not with yours, that would indeed be a valid reason to hate on Mother! Know going in that he isn’t going to be respectful of religion or the current state of the world and you’ll fare far better.
Now, the performances. In this context, they’re all interesting and rather delicious. Lawrence starts out as meek and you want her to wake up, but give her time. Bardem has the most fun as the love hungry, all forgiving, eminently destructive man. Supporting performances by Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris are strong and do a good job keeping the first half of the movie grounded in a little bit of reality.
Overall, I not only didn’t hate Mother! – I quite liked it. Keep an open mind, let the movie tell its story its own way and go with it, you might like it too.