Director Darren Aronofsky is very comfortable with making sensory arresting films that divide opinion and court controversy. With many of his films garnering critical appreciation long after release (Pi, The Fountain), some argue that the director is ahead of his time. After the divided response to his latest film, perhaps this will be the case with mother!
Jennifer Lawrence’s character is only known as “mother” (all but one character are named with lowercase initials). She lives in an idyllic country house that she and her husband, Him (uppercase “H”), played by Javier Bardem, are restoring. It is their personal paradise, of sorts, until one day a man appears at the door and is allowed to stay. The man’s wife arrives soon after—the couple pushing the boundaries of the offered hospitality until they are caught tampering with a forbidden ornament in Him’s out-of-bounds study. Sound familiar yet? It was to me, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why. I’ve written a thesis on the director, in theory I should know his game backwards, but here the master of the allegorical parable dangled me like a puppet clueless as to why the film’s opening felt so very familiar. It was only after the two arguing sons arrived on the doorstep, that it finally struck me. This is the Christian story; God, Adam, Eve, Kane, Abel, Jesus, they’re all there. But what of Jennifer Lawrence’s character? Mother Nature is an obvious fit, although there is a suggestion that she is also part of the holy trinity. At one point someone yells “there she is, Inspiration!”—again, an expression of Mother Nature, or as many Christians will tell you, the Holy Spirit.
The film’s final chapter is a head-scratcher. It descends into anarchic chaos and delivers a sensory onslaught that will test the most thick-skinned cinephile. As throngs of people arrive at their house, the claustrophobic camera-work clings to mother, following her everywhere, rarely leaving her porcelain face. The lack of musical score enhances Aronofsky’s brutal vision of humanities ugly side. Thankfully, Aronofsky’s intention appears to be for his audience to read mother! as an allegorical telling of humanity’s failures rather than a literal reading (which would otherwise render it a sick and sadistic torture story).
Towards the end mother pleads with Him, “Please … make them go away!” And in light of the worlds current political and environmental climate, I can understand her anguish. The film does offer a release valve, an out, an ending that goes beyond its Biblical roots … but I won’t spoil it for you.
mother! may not be for everyone—it requires a great deal of tolerance and a willingness to embrace the unconventional. But put in the effort and you’ll be rewarded with a stunning film that is both an illuminating and damning criticism of the human race.
You can see my published reviews here.