Anyone who’s ever watched a Darren Aronofsky film knows the harrowing uncertainty that watching one can entail. Like a Christmas present, you’ll never know what you’re getting until it’s too late. The same doubly goes for Mother!, Aronofsky’s latest film that doesn’t even attempt to hide its arthouse nature. One might even say that it crosses into Lars von Trier territory.
Mistakenly marketed as a horror flick, Mother! is anything but. Let’s get that out of the way first. It’s delightfully, unabashedly, and superbly arthouse. Although the film does come with a fair share of jump scares, don’t expect any horrors other than the psychological and symbolic kind.
Mother! starts off relatively tame before it cascades into full batshit crazy mode. We’re quickly introduced to the unnamed couple played by Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence (named in the production notes only as Him and Mother). Bardem plays a struggling poet, grieving the loss of his first wife and house to a freak wildfire. Mother is our poet’s second wife, drastically trying to rebuild her husband’s house from the ground up.
Soon, the couple’s serene existence is disrupted by an unexpected visitor, a dying doctor played by Ed Harris. Mother’s composure soon deteriorates as more and more visitors show up including the doctor’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) and children (Brian and Domhnall Gleeson).
That’s just the first part. The film’s second part takes it cue as Mother gets pregnant from out of nowhere and the poet finally finishes a piece he’s been working on since his first wife’s death. Mother’s peaceful existence is once again disrupted as her husband’s poem quickly skyrockets to astronomical fame. Hundreds of fans, fanatics, and zealots arrive to see the poet for themselves.
Factions with differing opinions on the poem wage war in the living room. Lives are sacrificed in the kitchen. Altars are set up in the bathrooms. It’s that crazy.
By the time you reach the second act, Mother! would have shed its narrative completely. What’s left is an English professor’s wet dream—metaphors, symbols, multiple interpretations.
There are no right and wrong ways to watch Mother!. Its interpretations are aplenty, with the fan favorite being an allegory for Mother Nature and our wanton destruction of it for shoddy ideals. There are allegories for the perils of fame, domestic abuse, and feminism in religion. Maybe it’s one; maybe it’s the other. While Aronofsky definitely has his own intentions and interpretations, Mother! is a film that subscribes to more than one interpretation. It’s a symbolically charged film that, sometimes begrudgingly, warrants multiple viewings.
If you don’t care for offensive symbolisms, watch it for Jennifer Lawrence’s performance. Mother! is easily one of Lawrence’s more mature roles. Her doe-eyed innocence hides an unsettling anger brewing from within. Bardem shines as well, with his enthusiastic but ignorant poet.
If anything, Mother! is a film that deserves to be understood. It’s not a haphazard movie borne out of an LSD-charged mind. Though some scenes push its point too much, it tries not to be too pretentious. The film’s subversive nature will step on some toes. Mother! doesn’t really care. It wants to make a statement. And it has, in explosive fashion.