You never quite know what to expect going into a Darren Aronofsky film. From “Pi” to “Requiem for a Dream” to “Black Swan,” he is the definition of an auteur. Even “Noah,” his most commercial film, is a unique take on the biblical story.
Going into “mother!,” my knowledge of what it was even about was cloudy. The trailers showed a horror film starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem. Why would Aronofsky make a horror film? He’s not a genre filmmaker. Then I saw it. “mother!” is unlike anything I’ve seen this year.
After a strange opening shot, the film begins with a woman known only as Mother (Lawrence) waking up in an empty bed. In search of a man known only as him (Bardem), she walks throughout an old house to establish two things: geography and ambiance. Aronofsky uses the house wonderfully by avoiding music almost altogether in favor of highlighting every creak. It’s a house with character that’s seen generations of footsteps. And yet at the same time, it’s quite derelict.
We’re told mother has rebuilt the house for him, who lost everything in a fire. He’s a poet in search of inspiration. She’s trying to give him inspiration through the house. It’s her baby.
But their solitary world is upended when a couple shows up at the door. What begins as simple pleasantries turns into room and board as Bardem invites them to stay much to the chagrin of mother. “They’re strangers,” she tells him.
What follows is a series of bizarre and awkward incidents that test not only her patience, but ours. The film is essentially two halves. The first being a methodical joyride down a windy hill and the second a full-blown car crash off a cliff. That isn’t to say the film gets worse as it moves along.
No, the film spirals out of control with each moment becoming more and more absurd and surreal. Expect the unexpected because you will have no clue where this goes with each scene that follows.
The story is told from Lawrence’s perspective so we are just as confused as she is. Aronofsky chooses to use a lot of handheld camera work which creates an intimate tension throughout the film.
It also helps that Lawrence once again delivers a fantastic performance. Through many close-ups, she conveys innocence and vulnerability which are common traits for a damsel in distress in the horror genre. But Lawrence is no scream queen. She’s a movie star acting her ass off. She’s vulnerable, but there’s also resentment and regret behind those eyes. I still marvel at how effortless she is despite her young age. Imagine what kind of an actress she’ll be once she’s lived a life.
Bardem is also strong. He doesn’t come off as creepy so much as distant. There’s something going on with him that makes him unpredictable from scene to scene. This is intentional once you see the film.
I can’t really go into anymore detail without giving too much away because it would spoil the fun. Perhaps fun isn’t the word to use. For many, this will be a frustrating experience that will test even the most seasoned filmgoer. As I was leaving the theater, a woman called someone on her cellphone and proclaimed the film, “A total mind-f**k.”
Aronofsky leaves a lot to interpretation. “mother!” is philosophical, at times even biblical with the way it talks about forgiveness. There’s even commentary on the world of celebrity, fame and environmentalism. At least I think.
If you’re looking for something wildly unpredictable and strange, “mother!’ is worth checking out. But that’s what Aronofsky does. He messes with you and makes your head spin when you leave the theater. I admire that about him. You may not like “mother!,” but it will certainly leave an impression. It certainly made an impression on me.