mother!

Movie Information

The Story: A couple trying to conceive find their bucolic life upended by unexpected guests. The Lowdown: Aronofsky goes full Buñuel in a career-defining work of symbolist genre-defiance, a polarizing magnum opus that requires an open mind and a strong constitution.  
Score:

Genre: Horror?
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson, Stephen McHattie, Kristen Wiig
Rated: R

 

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I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever attended a screening with an audience so palpably frustrated as the small crowd with which I shared my first experience of Darren Aronofsky’s mother! I say “first experience” because a) I’m going to have to see it again, and b) the film is definitely an experience, more ordeal than idle entertainment. For some — OK, many — that may be enough to dissuade any further interest. It certainly proved to be too much for the half-dozen walkouts I witnessed at my screening. But for those who are willing to dig for meaning and forgo all expectations of easy answers, mother! may well prove to be Aronofsky’s masterpiece.

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In light of the film’s current “F” rating on CinemaScore, I feel the need to belabor the obvious point: mother! is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. If you don’t like Buñuel or Jodorowsky, you’re going to hate this movie. If you’re looking for the Aronofsky of The Wrestler or Requiem for a Dream, you’re going to hate this movie. In case you haven’t guessed yet, I loved it.

 

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This is Aronofsky in the mode of The Fountain or Noah, both of which were similarly divisive with critics and audiences — and as was the case in those films, the point here isn’t so much story as myth. Specifically, mother! functions as a Gnostic allegory, less explicit in its antecedents than Noah, more directly Judeo-Christian than The Fountain. Intimate knowledge of Greco-Egyptian Hermeticism and Neoplatonism or Lurianic Kabbalah are not prerequisite to getting what Aronofsky’s on about, but it definitely helps. In layman’s terms, and not to put too fine a point on it, this film is about the role of the Sacred Feminine in esoteric cosmology — and not in some lazy Dan Brown sense. It’s an important work, and I’m glad somebody’s doing it.

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The writer/director has insisted on audiences seeing the film with as little advance knowledge of its workings as possible, and I’m inclined to agree with him (realistically, I’ve said too much already). To that end, I’m only going to offer up the barest of bones in terms of plot synopsis — which should be sufficient, because getting too hung up on traditional narrative will do you absolutely no favors with this one. Jennifer Lawrence plays an unnamed woman, Javier Bardem her unnamed husband. They share an idyllic existence, with her restoring their farmhouse while he struggles with his poetry in total isolation. Isolated, that is, until Ed Harris shows up. And then his wife, Michelle Pfeiffer. And then their feuding sons, Brian and Domhnall Gleason. And then … a bunch of people. That’s it, that’s all you’re getting out of me.

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The cast is uniformly exceptional, and I don’t have the room here to grant them the accolades they deserve. The filmmaking is, from a technical and stylistic perspective, perhaps the best of Aronofsky’s career. It bears the mark of influences ranging from Eraserhead to Rosemary’s Baby, though it’s about Motherhood rather than motherhood. But trying to assess the mechanics of a film like this, a work that’s so much more than the sum of its constituent parts, would be tantamount to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. mother! is a trial by fire, and in the alchemical sense of that phrase, you’ll come out the other end transformed. Unless you show up late and only stay for 30 minutes like the 20somethings who sat next to me. Seriously, don’t do that.

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7 thoughts on “mother!

  1. Bob Voorhees

    An “idyllic” existence?? The woman is slathering goop on the walls and the “writer has had The Block since they moved in. Later we discover that the relationship is sexless. If a half dozen people had been required to leave, I would have had to go. I watched this mash-up in disbelief, so I had to stay to see what this clown Aronofsky intended to do with his lead characters. The group of three that I walked out with had no clue what they’d just seen. I kept “feeling” that it was headed for allegory, but the Cain/Able segment was the only one that seemed consistent/compelling. I kept thinking of Stonewall Jackson and his letting the hoi polloi rabble into the White House (and what must Mrs. Jackson must have thought if that!) I later learned that this dufus is dating the lead actress, which explains why we had to endure half the movie being close-ups of her face and body. What several things mean is unclear. I’ll just give one example: what did Xavier’s photo in Ed’s bag mean or suggest? Is Ed the daddy of X and thus Adam in the allegory?
    This is a clever (the cinematography is very good at times) but incoherent movie. You gave it five stars for what reason??

    • Big Al

      It was Andrew Jackson who invited his rough entourage into the White House, not Stonewall Jackson.

      • Bob Voorhees

        Thanks! For over 65 years I have thought these two (Andrew and Stonewall) were the same person. Mea culpa. Bob Voorhees

        • Big Al

          Stonewall Jackson in the White House in 1863: Make ‘Merica Grate Agin.

    • MuddyW

      I think that’s why this movie is so polarizing: you either love it or hate it and there’s really no point in arguing why. Like the reviewer I loved it. FYI, the director and actress didn’t start dating until after the film wrapped and the story is told from her point of view as Mother Earth/Sacred Feminine (which is why the camera follows her throughout the film.)

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