It’s impossible to discuss mother! without divulging some of its greater mysteries, so here is the short review: a mind-numbing head trip that will prove frustrating to most audiences. For those few brave enough to endure the unrelenting terror and anxiety of an experience with an undetermined destination this film will be unique, absorbing, and utterly riveting feast for the senses and brain.
mother! is a riveting fever dream with no end or beginning that you cannot escape. It is obtuse, undecipherable and often vile but exhilarating and terrifying. Movies this unique follow no formula, give you no clues where they are going, and force you to experience them rather than understand them. This means most audiences will disregard this as fanciful, excessive artistry over substance, and write it off as nonsensical (“Stupid!” as one audience member shouted.) Quite the contrary.
The movie is so opened ended to interpretation that you can pick up any one of its allegorical threads whether an examination of God, religion, and extreme zealots, the act of inspiration and creation which is also destructive and consuming, or the decimation of our mother earth – and run with it. It's masterful what director Darren Aronofsky (director of Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream) has done in creating a film that can speak whisper on so many levels. It's also his least pessimistic film to date.
Both Jennifer Lawrence’s character, simply called “mother”, and the audience are abruptly shaken as incidents mount one by one in a remote house as people flood into and out of an idyllic country mansion to see the poet (played by Javier Bardem). Eventually the quiet home succumbs to madness once she is on the brink of giving birth to their child, crescendoing in a loud, clashing final act of violence and chaos. It’s horrific and harrowing, and the audience never gets a moment to reflect on the proceedings. The camera never leaves Lawrence for a single moment and we are forced to bear witness to every single act of cruelty from the beginning to the bitter end.
But while the events we see elicit strong emotions and revulsion but this is not the point. It’s the meanings behind them. Looking at the other characters names gives the clues needed to decipher the broader story: Him, Man, Woman (played by the sublime Michelle Pfeiffer), Younger Brother, Oldest Son, Cupbearer, Damsel, Fool, Idler, Defiler, Herald. These are not people, but rather symbols of the allegory. Is Him, capital “H”, supposed to be God? Is this a biblical allegory about mother as Mary (who at two points in the film is called a whore)? Or is she the mother Earth being pillaged by mankind after the creator is distracted? As soon as you discover the key, most of the story falls in place. And even if some mysteries remain, the overall experience is incredibly satisfying.
It’s perplexing that mother! is being marketed to a mainstream audience. They will hate it for not being a simple, straight-forward horror movie. This is arthouse horror at its best, a sub-genre that's admittedly pretentious but also challenging, enigmatic and artfully made. For fans, this will be an engrossing, terrifying and thoughtful journey. It resonates deeply and profoundly, and begs to be discussed and ultimately admired.