Movie Review: “Mother!” (R)
Darren Aronofsky follows up the divisive, Biblically charged “Noah” with the divisive, Biblically charged “Mother!”, a dreamlike fever pitch of a movie that is far more interested in tone and symbolism then it is in your garden (of Eden) variety plot mechanics. And if ever you needed reminding that Aronofsky is an atheist, “Mother!” will certainly do the trick. No, that’s not a knock on Aronofsky. Artists have always used their art as a form of expression, and that’s certainly the case here. That said, sometimes it’s nice to see a more balanced approach, particularly where themes of religion are concerned. That’s what made Martin Scorsese’s underappreciated “Silence” such a captivating motion picture experience.
In this allegorical art piece, Aronofsky introduces us to a writer (Javier Bardem) and his loving wife (Jennifer Lawrence). Together, this couple live a tranquil existence in a countryside home. Their happy union, however, is disrupted when a mysterious doctor (Ed Harris) and his somewhat abrasive wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrive. Without so much as consulting with his soul mate first, the writer offers to let this couple stay in their home. Ultimately, this sets off a strange series of events that culminate in an explosive, nightmarish finale that could be best described as positively bonkers.
I count myself as an Aronofsky fan, and while some may perceive “Mother!” as heavy handed, cynical, and even a bit pretentious, it would be unfair to call the film shallow, because there’s quit a bit to chew on here. The heart of “Mother!” is a play on biblical text with liberties taken, but this movie isn’t all religious allegory. There’s also a tale of an artist’s relationship with fandom and celebrity, an environmental message, an expose on terrorism, and quite a bit more. “Mother!” is certainly open to interpretation, and Aronofsky never takes the easy way out in his crusade to challenge viewers. Furthermore, this auteur wildly straddles the line between being disturbingly thought-provoking and campy with a high level of undeniable glee, and that balancing act won’t be for everyone.
On a technical level, “Mother!” is stunning. The cinematography and sound design in particular are of the highest quality. Director of photography Matthew Libatique throws you right in Lawrence’s head space, allowing viewers to truly experience this dreamlike film from her perspective. Likewise, props to a stellar sound design team for aiding in building tension and adding to this film’s unnerving sensibility by way of the most effective of nuances.
As for the performances, there really isn’t a false note amongst the high-profile cast. Jennifer Lawrence is terrific in the lead, a sort of Mother Earth in human form. Bardem is given the daunting task of essentially playing God, and as usual, this soft-spoken thespian is up to the challenge. Harris and Pfeiffer serve as the film’s primary supporting players, and they both bring energy and a sense of mystery to their interpretations of Adam and Eve. Rounding out a solid roster of supporting players are Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson, and Kirsten Wiig.
Of course, Aronofsky is the ringleader here, and he brings a lot of style and varying tones to a movie that is quite steeped in dream logic. This makes sense since the idea for the film reportedly sprang from a dream that Aronofsky once had. Beyond that, there’s also a fanboy aspect to this picture as Aronofsky draws plenty of inspiration from the likes of Roman Polanski and David Cronenberg.
As well made and as audacious as “Mother!” is, though, it’s far from perfect. Throwing in everything but the kitchen sink does not a masterpiece necessarily make, and make no mistake: “Mother!” isn’t a masterpiece. It’s not even a masterpiece by Aronofsky standards. He’s made stronger, more provocative films that pack a much more dramatic wallop in the past (see “The Fountain,” “The Wrestler,” and “Requiem For a Dream”). That said, there’s a lot to admire about “Mother!” For all it’s cynical nature and ribbing at other belief systems, it certainly isn’t lacking in passion, and again, it’s stunning to look at.