Film Review: mother!

mother! is the latest from Darren Aronofsky and it is in line with the director’s previous work, incredible and visceral filmmaking that enraptures you from start to finish.

After a quick opening that establishes something supernatural is afoot in this film, we are introduced to a couple who lives alone in a giant home in the middle of nowhere. The husband is a poet, in the midst of writer’s block, and the wife is restoring their home board by board, brick by brick. The couple seems to be living a tranquil enough existence, but the wife is fulfilling a domesticated homemaker role, waiting on her husband’s every request. Eventually a stranger knocks on the door, as he was told the husband and wife’s home was a bed and breakfast he could stay at, but the husband becomes fascinated by the man and entertains the mistake he has made. The wife doesn’t approve, and before we know it the stranger’s whole family seems to be showing up, followed by even more people coming for various reasons, most of whom are interested in the husband’s previous work.

And that is where I’ll stop.

That is the gist of what I knew going into this film and I couldn’t be much happier than I was to discover all of the little and broader details of the film; but boy does Aronofsky take us to some places. I know I’m being a bit vague, but that is the best way to tackle mother!. This is a love it or hate it film, and nothing I tell you about the plot is going to change that. And, regardless, this film is so surprising from start to finish, you literally will be asking yourself WTF is happening throughout as things keep piling up. Whether you think that is a good thing or a bad thing is up to you.

I thought it was incredible to experience. And experience is the ideal word there. That doesn’t mean the film doesn’t have characters or plot propelling it forward, but at its heart* you are along for the ride with Jennifer Lawrence’s Mother character who has no idea what the fuck is going on for most of the film. It is an exhilarating experience to be a part of and this tension and confusion is what drives the film forward. As much as Lawrence is a surrogate for the audience, she is also one for some of the central themes of the film. Female domesticity and oppression, slut shaming, women are only important for babies, men can make countless mistakes and be given endless chances, men only love the fact they are loved and don’t love in return, pains of childbirth, celebrity and this might just be the tip of the iceberg. mother! literally has just about everything crammed into it, but Aronofsky keeps it all feeling organic through his impeccable direction.

*This worked out to be a great reference to the film! Ha.

And as good as Aronofsky’s cast is in this film, and I’ll get to them shortly, he is the star of the show here. The film is a master class in direction and is as sure as itself as anything Aronofsky has done. The premise of the film allows things to be messy, and big, and crazy and he takes advantage of every ounce of freedom that gives him. You feel like anything could happen in a way that great filmmaking only can make you feel. The design of the house is brilliant, a spiral of confusion that lets his camera look everywhere at once while you wonder what is going to pop up next. The sound design is amazing, as he surrounds you with little noises here and there, drawing the titular Mother’s attention and yours, propelling us to the next scene without an ounce of music. And the tension that Aronofsky gets out of the film without having to resort to a score makes that accomplishment even more impressive. The film also looks incredible, the camera weaving in and out of action, pushing in for an incredibly tight close up, only to hold back at the perfect moment to give us a sense of scope for the space we’ve entered. This might be Aronofsky’s best directed film, but I need to see it a time or two more before I would consider dethroning The Fountain as my favorite of his.

The cast in mother! is also excellent, with Jennifer Lawrence perfectly playing the confusion and frustration with her husband at the center of the film. Her emotions are never too big, which allows the audience to really paste ourselves onto her experience, but she also always seems to be capturing the feelings I was exactly feeling throughout. Her scenes with Javier Bardem, one on one, are also some of the film’s high points, as she struggles to understand what is going through his head. Bardem is wonderful as well, delivering a carefree and charismatic performance few can pull off, while punctuating it with the intense beats and “it will all be fine” aloofness only a man with power could get away with. Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer nail it as the houseguests from hell, with Harris stepping over social boundaries in stride, while Pfeiffer makes herself a little too much at home. I wish we got into Pfeiffer’s head a bit more than we do, but she is great and flashes death glares as good as anyone. Brian and Domhnall Gleeson come in like a tornado for a scene to play the intruding couple’s sons and make their mark, while Kristen Wiig basically does the same in the film’s final act.

mother! is not for everyone, but it was certainly for me. Aronofsky has always been one of my favorite directors and he doesn’t disappoint one bit here. An incredible experience, mother! should be seen by anyone who is compelled by the power of filmmaking, as we are unlikely to see another film that surpasses it in that arena this year. As an entry into the horror genre, I will take this unsettling and exploding drama over a creepy killer any day of the week. mother! is the best film of the year, so far.

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