Folks who has seen the trailer for mother! and expected to see a fun psychological horror film by Darren Aronofsky, the guy who made Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream were instead greeted by a disturbing and shocking psychological drama from the guy who made the disturbing and psychological dramas, Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream.
A few weeks ago I reviewed Good Time and thought that it was the most interesting film of the year. That is no longer the case, as mother! is so incredibly unique, bold and ambitious that nothing else from this year or most others can really compare to it.
The film is seemingly about a young woman who marries an older man who has made a career as an author. They live in very large house poised in the middle of nowhere- literally. There is no reference to where they live, and there are no roads leading to the house. Heck, there isn’t even a makeshift path worn into the grass leading to the front door. The house and setting around it seem to take place in some sort of dream world due to how immaculate certain features are around the couple.
In spite of this sever isolation, a man appears on their doorstep who is a fan of the author. He has nowhere to go, so he is invited to stay. Eventually his wife and the rest of his family show up and things start to get weird. A disgruntled son confronts hi brother and parents resulting in a physical confrontation which sets the stage for the second half of the film. At this point, there have certainly been some strange things in the film, but nothing feels too strange that it couldn’t be brushed off as some sort of creative decision. At this point, most of the audience is still on the same page as Aronofsky.
Not for long. By the time anyone realizes what the film is actually about, it is far too late. The trap door under our feet has been deployed, and the audience is whisked away on a relentlessly shocking and unnerving sequence that only ends once the credits begin to roll. Explaining why this film is so baffling and shocking would require going into too many details, so I will wait to reveal that. In the meantime, each of you out there will have to take my word for it that this film is most definitely not as it has been advertised.
This film is not easy to dissect. It is one of the most ambitious and challenging film that I have seen in several years. In fact, it is difficult to come up with an analogue to this film other than previous films by Aronofsky. Of his two most famous films, Requiem for a Dream is probably the closest comparison that can be made- particularly the ending sequence, which shares a lot with the ending sequence in mother!, though the latter is far more drawn out in exchange for not being quite as abrasive.
This film will challenge you, as that appears to be its main goal. It challenges you from the very beginning with a visual style that becomes slightly disorientating as the film goes on. The camera is most often very close to Jennifer Lawrence’s character (none of the characters in the film have names, so further reference will be to Lawrence or the other actors) and there are very few medium or long shots. Hovering over her shoulder as she moves through the house means that we rarely get a complete view of the floor space, or the relative positioning of any of the rooms, as such we can never be sure where the characters are going throughout the film. It is as if Lawrence is wondering through a labyrinth whose center is constantly shifting positions so as to never be found.
That disorientation will only amplify as the film begins to reveal its true colors. Again, I will not go into spoilers here, but anyone who is interested in the film would need to be prepared to be confronted with strong and distressing religious imagery, vexing character introductions and interactions, and even some violence and gore. The latter is almost an afterthought, save for one brief moment, for the other imagery and narrative revelations dominate the consciousness of any viewer of this film to the point where the violence hardly registers.
After all of this, I still cannot come to a solid conclusion about the quality of the film. It is so perplexing and unique, that is becomes difficult to nail down its quality. Given the shocking, and ambitious nature of the film, it is hard to come to a definitive conclusion as to the films worth, and if it should even be recommended. It is most certainly well made, with great acting performances, and a very compelling visual style.
However, it is difficult, if not impossible to come to a strong conclusion about this film. I suppose I will conclude this review by stating that if any of you out there desire that challenge from the film, and to potentially have some of their views on religion and some other world aspects to be confronted, then this film is a must see. If you just saw It and were looking for another horror film to go see, stay far away from this film, as it is disturbing in a vastly different way than It – it seems as though many people made this mistake. Ultimately, that is all I can say about this film: it seeks to disturb you. Your reaction to that statement should provide the best answer as to whether or not you see this film.