'Mother!': Prepare to love it, hate it, or maybe both

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Jennifer Lawrence is in almost every single frame of Darren Aronofsky's Mother! Niko Tavernise/Paramount Pictures

Darren Aronofsky has a knack for turning small stories into bizarre, wildly ambitious analyses of broader human experiences.

An unemployed Max Cohen stumbles upon the mysteries of the universe in Pi. In her search for perfection, a young dancer psychologically breaks from reality in Black Swan. In his latest film, Mother!, the director focuses on the relationship between a husband and wife living in the middle of nowhere. By way of this simple foundation, he explores themes as far-reaching as celebrity, environmentalism, the male ego, religion, gender roles, and death.

The entirety of Mother! takes place in one location: a spooky house built upon the ashes of Him’s (Javier Bardem) previous home. Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) lovingly paints, fixes things, cooks, and cleans while Him, a famous poet, struggles with writer’s block. It seems like a mostly tranquil existence, but we soon get the sense that something is not normal here.

When a stranger comes to the house thinking it’s a bed-and-breakfast, Him offers the man a room to spend the night, despite Mother’s protestations. Red herrings abound in these early moments, but Mother!’s exponential pacing quickly reveals what’s really going on, or rather, the multiple things going on in this picture.

While it may seem like an aside, kudos to the marketing team on Mother! for—it’s sad that this is a remarkable feat—not ruining the film by divulging the entire plot in the trailers. This has been one of the most closely guarded features to come out in a long time, and the moviegoing experience benefits from all that secrecy. There’s great pleasure in figuring it out in real time, and thinking back on what you missed once it’s over, rather than having your brain work everything out from a commercial. Other studios should take some cues.

It’s not ruining anything to say Mother! builds toward an impressive climax. Aronofsky pulls off some stunning visuals throughout, but what’s most impressive is the way he weaves so many different ideas together without the movie feeling scatterbrained and without ever losing sight of Mother as a character. Jennifer Lawrence is the understated lynchpin here. Her performance will draw comparisons to that of Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby, but she makes it her own. Lawrence is relatable in a way that Farrow was not, bringing us along in her early confusion while remaining sympathetic. We’re tied to her thoughts and emotions, and throughout everything we root for her above all else. This in and of itself is a slick move by Aronofsky within a larger context, but I’ll stop there; to go into it any further could spoil some things.

Mother! is the kind of movie where you leave the theater wondering whether or not you liked it. It’s ambitious, brilliant, a tad pretentious, coy, and conversely heavy-handed at times. It’s also most definitely not your typical horror thriller.

Mother!
directed by Darren Aronofsky
area theaters, now showing


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