'mother!' will make you cry for mommy
“mother!” is one of those good movies that is simply impossible to like. Ironically, this is due to a quality that would, in most situations, make a movie beloved — that quality being superb direction. The trouble is that when you allow a director with as twisted a mind as Darren Aronofsky, a man who has such a distinct ability to realize his visions, to go out and direct his own screenplay about the relationship between a young wife and a poet as insane as the auteur director himself, the result will inevitably be a terrifying film that is barely worthy of a first viewing.
Paramount Pictures was evidently willing to take a leap of faith in distributing this movie, a move which is from one perspective commendable, considering the lack of willingness major studios have demonstrated with regard to producing films based on original screenplays in recent years. On the other hand, it is also a choice that has — predictably — been criticized, since it has in turn allowed for images to be committed to film that should never have been permitted in the first place. Never in my life have I been so disturbed by a movie, which is saying a lot, because I saw Luc Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” this past summer, a film which is disturbing in its own right by virtue of the fact that it even exists in the first place.
Aronofsky’s biblical and environmentalist allegory of a film begins in flames. Its opening moments present us with the burning face of a nameless woman, who is then engulfed by a fire which proceeds to die down. All we see next is the remains of a burnt-down house, which begins to rebuild itself after another nameless character places a crystal on one of the remaining shelves of the home. The camera follows this rebirth from the entrance of the house into the bedroom of a couple played by Academy Award winners Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, whose characters, like the burning woman in the first frame, are nameless for the entirety of the story. However, Lawrence and Bardem are billed in the credits as Mother and Him.
Lawrence brings her usual 150 percent to her performance, which is hands-down the most interesting of her career, and at the same time, her most bizarre career choice, considering she accepted her role before even seeing a script. Lawrence confessed in promotionals for the film that before working on “mother!” she was yearning to work with Aronofsky, whom she is now in a relationship with. Evidently, she harbors a deep admiration for more than just his work, which is concerning when one takes into account how severely twisted Darren Aronofsky’s mind is. (But then again, it is not up to the public to determine who Jennifer Lawrence dates. She is free to frolic with the art world’s insane to her heart’s content). If one thing can be said, it is that she makes a meal out of her role, and as always, is captivating to watch.
Bardem’s performance is fine. He doesn’t do much of anything we haven’t seen from him before. This film is just another showcase of his affinity for playing menacing characters, building on his “disturbing character” resume, which includes “Skyfall” and “No Country for Old Men.”
With the exception of the opening shot, “mother!” seems fairly pedestrian in its first act, until the arrival of Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, who portray yet another nameless couple (are you starting to sense a trend here?). At that point, the film slowly descends into complete madness, a madness that violently flourishes under Aronofsky’s direction but also serves to make the stomach churn. What ensues in the third act is Aronofsky’s take on the cinematic trope of the Vietnam War nightmare, complete with raining bullets and beastly human behavior, which he spices up with an overdose of narrative cocaine, a recipe — and major spoilers here — which somehow yields imagery of Kristen Wiig wielding a handgun, the death-by-neck-snapping of a crowd-surfing newborn infant at the butterfingered hands of a subsequently cannibalistic crowd (yes, they eat the baby), and a lightly toasted Jennifer Lawrence allowing Javier Bardem to pull out her heart.
If any of what I just mentioned is to your personal taste, I cannot recommend this movie enough; congratulations on finding something as accommodating to your neural particularities as Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” And while “mother!” has flopped at the box office since its opening on Sept. 15, if people who like this film exist it is bound to find its audience, just as every other one of Aronofsky’s films has. However, that by no means implies that I think it will ever fall into the popular category of “beloved.”