The best preface that i have for mother! is that likely anyone reading this review has probably seen it, and would like to know 2 things:
- what was it that they saw
- curious about other people’s reactions/interpretations
These two points come along with the fact that (due to the film’s nature) it is impossible to discuss the film in any depth without resorting to major spoilers. As it is my recommendation is to just see the film for yourself and make up your mind.
Mother’s! Life is set upside down when her husband keeps inviting people into their huge home. One explosion ensues.
Aronofsky and his long time cinematographer Matthew Libatique put their unique visual style through an evolution here in mother!. Aronofsky movies are usually extremely subjective and here in mother! their favoured close up tracking shots (usually of the back of someones head), are used to manufacture a suffocating subjective atmosphere. I’m not exaggerating when i say that 95% of the shots in the film are of Jlaw’s face, and the film is quite effective in building its atmosphere.
As the choice of shot blocking and editing limits my perspective to that of hers, aiding in keeping everyone’s motives and rational as opaque to me as it is to her character.
Make no mistake, mother! is an art film. They type of art film where the characters don’t have names, and where metaphors and archetypes are so obvious they’re flushed down the toilet, or grow in pools of blood on the floor. I must stress that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing depending on one’s expectations, and i had almost none going into the film (other than the movie being quite polarizing). Honestly i was bored during the first 2/3rds of film, as the metaphors are so obvious their use becomes predictable far too soon into the production.
Doubt and biblical allegories drive the majority of mother!‘s thematic currents; and they’re really obvious as in they’re wallpapered throughout the entire production with the subtly of hot pink and green stripes. This is particularly with its use of doubt, given a recurring visual representation akin to the beating heart in E.A. Poe’s A Tell Tale Heart, and inspiring the same insanity in the character.
It really seems that Aronofsky tried to return to the same ground that Black Swan did so well in, where it is left to me as an audience member to decide whether Jlaw is going crazy from stress, or if there’s something supernatural going on. It is unarguably the latter and it is largely less interesting, which is disappointing given how great Black Swan and The Fountain did with similar set ups.
The literal supernatural elements of the film are cemented by the cyclical beginning/end, and obvious biblical references (a frog appearing out of nowhere, Cain/Abel, Adam and Eve, etc etc). It leaves no question, and no possible route other than to take the events presented in the film as literal occurrences. Yes Javier Bardem is some sort of entity that feeds on adoration, yes the mother sees her heart in the home, yes the house party devolves into a war zone, and yes they kill and eat a baby.
It honestly seems that Aronofsky went out of his way to challenge and distract audience members in an attempt to cover up the film’s simplicity, his use of extreme imagery seems calculated to pummel people into a state of incredulity and thus obfuscate the overt metaphors that followed. Take the inclusion of Kristen Wiig as His publicist (sorry “herald”), she’s a known comedian and people knowledgeable with her body of work will likely be disarmed by her presence.
This would undoubtedly lead to a tail spin when she’s shown (within a matter of minutes) to be brutally executing helpless people with seemingly no reason for it, other than to shock that particular viewer further.
Lastly the suffocating cinematography and blocking while effectively used in the film’s quiet moments falls completely apart when trying to communicate the large-scale set pieces. Everyone has to crowd into the frame, and events have to unfold quickly enough for a viewer to make some sense of, as a result the ending riot has a distinctly Monty Pythonesque quality to it. Made doubly so by the ridiculousness of the entire situation, i honestly wanted to laugh but was fascinated by what other thing the film makers were going to throw into my face next.
I think it’s clear that mother! was made with the express purpose of being declared art, and because it tries so desperately to be so it comes off as pretentious and largely boring. As purposeful pieces like these are far to easy to decipher once the keys to the locks are found, and while a similar film like Eraserhead escapes this trap by being extremely idiosyncratic to its creator; mother! delivers its inspiration with the subtlety of a rail gun impact.
As a result there’s very little in the film to hold my attention, again i was quite bored when i concluded that doubt was the thing gnawing at Jlaw as it couldn’t be anything else. Nor does the ending leave any room for contemplation, as the film’s structure can lead me only to one conclusion; that despite its shocking imagery is quite boring.
OUT OF FIVE