Review: mother!

Director(s)Darren Aronofsky
Principal CastJennifer Lawrence as mother
Javier Bardem as Him
Release Date2017
Running Time 121 minutes

NOTE: The review contains minor spoilers for the movie. They’re nothing that would spoil your entertainment of the movie (unlike trailers which will mislead you). Everything I spoil is fairly obvious and necessary for me to give a more coherent review.

I love both Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan, the latter of which I found so entertaining that I wrote my first (and currently only, I promise I’m writing more) piece of analysis on it. So when I saw Aronofsky was directing another horror movie with Jennifer Lawrence as the lead, I was all in. Unfortunately, after my first viewing I was kind of let down, especially after I read the director’s interviews about the movie. I just felt like the experience chalked up to a whole lot of nothing. A year later, I came upon the movie again and just ended up watching it on a whim – maybe it was the Hunger Games binge I was on, but that’s a story for another day. Anyways, I watched it again, this time fully aware of the allegory and the authors intent, but this time I liked it a lot more. It was strange how much I ended up enjoying certain sequences. I could swear it was like I was watching a different movie. Aronofsky ‘s allegory is a lot more interesting and provocative than I first thought, even if it feels a bit myopic, but it requires a certain frame of mind.

The story of mother! follows her (mother) and Him, the latter being a famous poet trying to finish his a new work and the former being the keeper of the house, decorating and furnishing it. As mother goes around the house she sees a strange heartbeat in the house. Soon afterwards, a guest comes over and slowly all hell breaks loose and mother finds herself dealing with unwanted visitors. The movie is allegorical- that’s not a secret. There’s the story of Adam and Eve, Abel and Cain, the old vs New testament, the birth of Christ, and everything in between. The imagery is obvious and incredibly visceral, leaving a deep impact on the viewer. Him is God and the mother is Earth, so the movie is also an allegory of the relationship of Earth to religion and people. If this summary seems too pretentious or full of itself, then skip the movie. You probably won’t like it. The psychological horror in the movie is subtle and slowly evolving until it crescendos in the third act. If you don’t like “slow burners” you might also want to skip this one. For those of you left, you’re in for something gorgeous.

I love weird movies like this. I think my initial irritation with the movie came from the mis-marketing of it ( I thought it was going to be some kind of normal home invasion story) and a misunderstanding of the cool interactions between the different themes in the movie. Yes, there’s the obvious one that Aronofsky tells us, but if you take that together with other smaller moments you get a neat looking picture. The connection between religion, sin, forgiveness, and the environment is provocative. My only real issue is that it all feels a bit too nihilistic. If there was a bit more characterization during certain parts, then I think the movie could’ve done something truly masterful, but as it is, it paints a pretty pessimistic picture of the world with no way out.

This movie is definitely a horror movie. I’ve seen a lot of people saying the opposite, which I think is kind of ridiculous. There are harrowing sequences that are both grotesque and intended to disgust and shock the audience. The pacing and editing in the latter half of the movie create a real tension. Yes, you know where the movie is going to go but it does a hell of a job at ramping up the absurdity of its allegory at every turn. The movie is mainly shot from the perspective of her – either behind her or looking at her face. The audience is along for the ride, so as mother gets more tense and harrowed, so do we. It’s confusing, chaotic, and disturbing, and in its own way beautiful. You really feel for her. Sound design is the main reason this works so well. It’s minimalist, so the normal barrier erected between the audience and the screen feels gone. The sounds of the house are what come out distinctly. Put together, the experience puts you directly with the character in horrible situations. If you let yourself experience the movie, instead of just watching it, you may enjoy it a lot more. I think that’s why I liked the movie a lot more the 2nd time.

The main problem with the movie is it only works at the level of allegory. I wish it was more a home invasion movie or even a psychological horror in the more traditional sense with the allegory working on less “literal” level. The best movies can tie in a fully formed plot and tap on the allegory/metaphors as another layer – so the movie can be viewed in a traditional sense, and also in whatever subtext the director/viewer extracts. This movie only works as the latter which is why it may not work for a lot of people.

Report Card

TLDRmother! is a thought provoking allegory about God, the environment, humanity and the way their respective relationships intersect. If you like purely allegorical movies then this should be straight in your ballpark. I wish it was less nihilistic, but I’m nonetheless impressed with the creativity on display.
Grade A

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