With sequels, universe building, and remakes, there is not an abundance of original content in the movie world. Once in a while something original will come along and garner audiences’ attention. From 2015’s Ex Machina, to 2016’s Swiss Army Man, to this years mother! originals are able to be mainstream films, which get audiences talking. Writer and directer Darren Aronofsky’s mother! succeeds in doing exactly that. From its allegorical story, to its gorgeous visuals, to its well-acted cast, mother! is a grotesque mystery which will generate polarizing conversations.
As stated before mother! is an allegory, but figuring that out and piecing it together is half the fun of seeing this film. That being said, no more will be discussed on what that allegory is to avoid spoiling any part of the movie. The symbolism is woven throughout the film elegantly. Oftentimes it hits references right on the nose. Other times Aronofsky tweaks elements to make them his own and to fit with the tone of the movie. The symbolism aids in giving this film more meaning, but there are moments that do not quite work with what Aronofsky is trying to say. At times, if you are looking for it, the references are obvious, but if you are not looking for anything this movie still has more to offer.
Technically this movie shines. The sound design is brilliant. Every creak of the floor, or each time a door opens or closes, it is audible. When Jeniffer Lawrence walks around barefoot you can hear the subtlety of her feet dragging against the salvaged wooden floors. This aids in the audience getting a feel for the house—what it sounds like and what it looks like. Editing is also outstanding. Andrew Weisblum, the films editor, is able to make the house seem whole and massive, but simultaneously claustrophobic. When the chaos ensues in the third act, the different scenes are sewn together seamlessly. Begging the question, “How is all this happening in this house?” yet it never feels like it is anywhere else. The cinematography is gorgeous. Most of the film has an airy yellow tint to it (possibly a reference in itself), which becomes darker and distorted until each scene is flooded with blue. Blue is then subsided by a sharper, more direct yellow that bursts into an uproarious exclamation, deserving orange in the film’s final act.
Outside of the technical aspects, this film also has solid performances from its cast. Bardem is enigmatic and plays his part straight. Every so often he shows fits of rage and excitement—making the audience feel his emotions and concurrently frustrated with his actions. Much of the other cast members are secondary, aside from the supporting characters played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer. Both roles, Man and Woman, respectively, are well acted. Harris stays calm throughout, frequently bumbling, providing a believable performance of a man welcoming hospitality and stuck in admiration. Pfeiffer, rarely without a drink in her hand, plays her part of curious and viperous woman well with beady eyes and an accusatory tone. The other performance worth noting is by Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence stays fairly docile throughout, using a raspy voice that cracks when the emotional strain is too much. She attempts to make her presence known, but is constantly shadowed by Bardem’s strong Him. Only in the end does Lawrence get to use her full range of emotion.
Lawrence, although playing her part well, seems underused. Perhaps it is how her character is written, but she never gets a chance to shine. Aside from Lawrence’s underutilization there are other areas the movie falters. Mainly with the allegory mentioned before. As mentioned, sometimes it does not fit. There are parts that are intense only for the sake of being intense or grotesque. After watching, the biggest question is if this films holds up as a coherent story without the allegory and symbolism. Some will say yes, and some will disagree.
At the time of release the buzz around this film has been polarizing. People are either loving it and praising it as a masterpiece, or hating it and saying it is the worst film of the year. mother! is somewhere in between. mother! is beautiful to look at and intense to watch with good performances and tight editing. However, the beating a dead horse, obliquely obvious message woven throughout sometimes bogs down the plot and uses gore because it can. Is this movie garbage? No. Is it a masterpiece? Not necessarily, but it is definitely better than it is horrible. And it should be applauded for originality. Paramount has been completely supportive, and that is admirable. More acclaim, buzz, and backing will hopefully begat more original content. In the meantime, go see mother! and see for yourself what all the hype is about.