MOTHER!: A Confusing Experience That Is Not To Be Missed
Darren Aronofsky's Mother! is a unique and confusing experience that will stay with you, long after the film has ended.
Walking out of the theater for my viewing of mother!, I was flabbergasted. I honestly had no idea what I had just seen. My mind was spinning and unable to sort out the vast chaotic and confusing imagery that had been crammed into the film. Furthermore, I wasn’t sure if mother! had been an experience, or a total waste of time.
Days would pass as I sorted everything out in my mind and began to find some sort of understanding about what I had just seen. I tried to avoid other reviewers and article interpretations of what they had seen – both the good and the bad. As I began to draw up my own conclusions, however, I realized that my understanding of mother! may not be the intention of the director/ writer Darren Aronofsky, or the understanding other audience members might draw. This alone could account for such a vast reception to the film – audience and critic alike.
mother! is a hard film to talk about without giving spoilers and taking too much of the viewer experience away from the audience. I start off by saying that this is the first film starring Jennifer Lawrence that I am not sure I liked, or would ever watch again. Sadly, it was nothing with the film itself, as the acting and elements of filmmaking were on point;, it was the core story and the overwhelming chaotic means of telling the story that I found deserting, pushing me away from potential future viewings.
I also found the originality of the film was drained, as I had heard comparisons to The Giving Tree drawn up by various critics, as well as my own comparison to a short film I had seen earlier this year at the TriBeCa Film Festival called Buckets (Click the link and you will see a a striking resemblance between the two film’s movie posters). I don’t want to spoil either film, but watch mother! and then Buckets – you will completely understand the story comparison by the films’ end.
The insanity of mother! is slowly played out through the film, interlacing within each element and creeping up on the audience in two parts – the first part of the film a more realistic parallel universe of the second. The initial opening of mother! is slow and drags for a bit but the scenes following immediately after immerse viewers into an atmosphere of heightened adrenaline and anticipation. Thankfully, Aronofsky wastes no time expanding our immediate two part cast.
While Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) spends her days renovating a once burnt home to its glory, Father (Javier Bardem) works to create his newest masterpiece – with no success. They live a quiet and monotonous lifestyle until a knock on the door late one night changes everything. With the appearance of Man (Ed Harris), followed by the arrival of Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) the following day, their peaceful life is uprooted. Yet, where Father finds inspiration, Mother finds terror and destruction.
A momentary breath of peace and fresh air transitions the film into part two. As we enter the second half of the film, everything happens faster and is more exaggerated. There is a new vibe that resonates throughout the home – both Mother and Father seemingly different. Yet, the eye of the storm always passes and both are thrown into a world that may consume them both.
Several people will label this film the worst film of the year, causing many to completely disregard mother!. While I am not sure that this is a film I will personally be viewing again, I do encourage audiences to see it. The performances, the cinematography, everything was on point, yet was only silenced and overshadowed by a failure in the core – the story itself. One should not need Google or a philosophy degree to understand a film.
The story is the foundation of a cinematic house, and without a solid foundation the entire house fails. The story of mother! is sometimes a victim of an identity crisis. The film and story does not know if it is biblical, psychological (hysteria and insanity), a social examination, or a cult. While there may have been a successful way of incorporating all these elements, Darren Aronofsky’s choice of rapid fire imagery to tell his story was too much.
Viewers, especially as the film progresses, are given no time to process what they are seeing on screen. This may have been a decision made by Aronofsky as the characters themselves are not given the time to process what they are seeing and experiencing. This lack of process time may have also contributed to the poor reception the film has received – and caused my distaste. There is too much going on and not enough time to find the symbolism or allegories within – nevermind biblical, psychological and social/cultural representations.
Yet, some of the elements in the film were not just being thrown at viewers, many times like rapid fire, but instead some of these elements were unnecessary and were thrown in for the sole purpose of confusing the audience and heightening the WTF factor. They did nothing to contribute or elevate the story – and only took away from the areas of the film that needed more time and concentration. As time passes, I am sure some of this unnecessary information, as well as the vast array of imagery, will be explained – either heightening the distaste for mother! or bringing audiences a new enlightenment of the film. For now, they were useless in the telling of this story.
When broken down into smaller pieces, though, mother! had its triumphs. Jennifer Lawrence delivered a compelling and captivating performance. Honestly, I would not be surprised to find her with an Oscar nomination by award season’s end. Her dedication and delving into deeper levels of a character are clear throughout the entire film. Yet, I also wouldn’t be surprised if she were to find a snub due to the film’s degrading reception.
And she was not the only one to deliver. It was a joy to see Michelle Pfeiffer back on the big screen. While this was not her first return from her long standing absence in film, it was one of her most notable roles in recent years. She delivers the role of a crass and free-spirited wife, who knows no social boundaries. Ed Harris is the perfect counterpart, both their on-screen relationship and eerie appearance heightening the tension within mother!.
When speaking of counterparts, while not appearing perfectly casted at first glance in the film’s opening scenes, Javier Bardem rounds out a strong leading cast, delivering a chilling and resounding performance alongside Lawrence. When watching him on screen, his eyes are the most captivating and hypnotizing, every emotion screaming out – it is no surprise he was casted for this particular role (again, no spoilers but you will see when you watch him).
My Experience and Interpretations
At the start of this article, I did mention that I was unsure if I would ever watch this film again. Yet, as the days have passed and I have worked on this review, I have found myself drawn back to the film, almost a longing to see it again. Whether this longing is to see if I missed something or because the film was good, I do not know; yet as the insanity creeps up within the film, this longing to see it again also creeps and lingers – drawing me back in.
Having seen mother! on the night of its release, I had already read many headlines talking about “an experience” that the film delivers to its audience – both good and bad. Walking out of the theater, I can definitely say it was an experience – I’m just not sure what experience I really had. When I walked out, there were thoughts in my mind regarding cults, time relativity, the doom of history repeating itself and the idea of control (how much do we really have?). Metaphysical representations of emotional destruction and objects personified actually filled my dreams the following few nights – this was a movie I woke up with, my conscious taking the next shift from my subconscious continuing the battle of “What did I just see?”
Yet, as I try to understand this film, while hearing the intended and supposed interpretations, a part of me feels that the concept mother! was trying to convey is more simplistic and obvious than many would have you believe. Articles of allegories and biblical proportions are thrown around as possible and probable explanations for mother!, but what if it is simply an examination of ourselves, the world we live in and the obsessive nature and downsides of Hollywood popularity.
This concept of popularity and a need to be a part of something is the one element that stood out the strongest for me and has resonated since my viewing. It’s so simple and obvious once you watch the film. It examines how people need to be a part of something, each part of this film in its own extreme. Individuals become consumed and driven by the lives of others, the lives that inspire and the lives that create an aura of glamour, creativity, and success. This is a concept that we see all too often in the world of fame and fortune. The crazed fans needing to meet and see their idol in the space which they encompass – whether that be living, breathing, working, etc.
Yet, mother! also examines the other side in our need to be wanted, accepted and embraced. What are we willing to sacrifice and are others willing to sacrifice in order to achieve both of these concepts for ourselves and others? What are we willing to do to reach the top and be accepted, and what are the sacrifices we are willing to make to get and stay there? These are concepts that have been examined since the dawn of film, however never to this extreme representation – and it is no surprise that Jennifer Lawrence felt herself drawn to this role, dropping out of The Rosie Project.
Why See Mother!?
Throughout this article, I have mentioned numerous times that I am not sure if I liked this film or if I will ever see it again. Yet, to contradict myself, I have recommended that audiences do view the film – at least once. While I cited the reasons for this earlier as the quality of the film is not to be missed, that is not the only reason.
While I may not have initially understood the film, and may have found my own unintended interpretations/ experiences, I do strongly believe this is a film that could potentially hold a unique experience for a vast array of individuals. There is something about mother! that makes you think, that makes you stop and relive the entire film in your mind. As I mentioned, I actually dreamed about this film, I spent so much time trying to figure it out.
While mother! wasn’t the bang out success I had hoped for myself, I do strongly feel that there are many who may derive a different experience. And I encourage all to give it a chance to experience it for yourself – find your own understanding and interpretations.
What did you think of mother!? Tell us in the comments below!
mother! was released in the U.S. and the U.K. on September 15, 2017. For all international release dates, see here.
Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.