By Jack Dignan
One of my all time favourite movies is 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s a gigantic, ambitious exploration into the vastness of space that really tested the limits of filmmaking. I’ve shown that film to a lot of people. Not everyone has enjoyed it. That’s fair. It’s a film made for a very particular audience, and that audience didn’t necessarily exist at its time of release, where the biggest advocates where stoners tripping out to its insane visuals. Mother! reminds me a lot of 2001: A Space Odyssey. That, too, is a film beyond words. It’s the type of story one tries to describe, but fails in almost every way possible. I can’t even begin to tell you about the events that transpired in this film.
I left this movie at a loss for words. This is an experience beyond comprehension. I’ve seen some strange movies in my time, but Mother! just about tops them all. Director Darren Aronofsky has never been one to hold back, whether it’s his dark and unnerving vision in Black Swan or his boundary pushing depiction of heroin addiction in Requiem For A Dream. His films elevate what cinema was made for, propelling it out into the far reaching areas of the cosmos, where a linear narrative is but an unknown concept. With Mother!, Arronofsky is let loose once again. There’s no limits to his madness, and the result is spell bounding.
He’s given a psychedelic and perplexing playground where anything is possible. None of the characters have names. Jennifer Lawrence is credited as “mother,” and she serves as the sole protagonist. We see the world from her eyes. Director of Photography Matthew Libatique, a frequent Aronofsky collaborator, shows a different side to life. Every shot is framed from her perspective, whether it’s a P.O.V shot, an over the shoulder shot or a front on shot. You don’t get to know an awful lot about her as a character, but that isn’t the point. You are the character. She’s an embodiment of the audience, in a way, allowing for a peek behind the curtains in this nightmarish depiction of reality, art and creation.
The narrative is always on edge. It twists and turns its way through its baffling premise, without any explanation as to what’s real and what’s not. This is a dark, confronting experience that’s no-doubt going to turn a lot of people off. General audiences are going to hate it, and for fair reason. Mother! is the least mainstream movie ever made. Aronofsky has made some strange films before. Just look at The Fountain. But nothing can prepare you for the ambiguous dreamscape known as Mother! This film is off the rails. It’s the depiction of a couple who let uninvited strangers into their home, only to have their tranquil experience flipped upside down and their introverted lives figuratively and literally destroyed.
You could hear spoilers from this movie and it won’t change a thing. The narrative moves at an unconventional pace, with characters serving as a mere necessity to the overarching meaning behind its complexity, rather than as three-dimensional beings living on the screen. Knowing the outcome won’t change the experience. Your mind will be boggled as Aronofsky constantly throws you into the deep end and holds you underwater. You fight and fight to resurface, but it’s no use. He doesn’t give you what you want. Murder analogy aside, I dig that. Mother! doesn’t have all the answers, but you don’t need them. It’s a film that can be interpreted in several different ways, many of which are probably right, but all of them are definitely wrong too.
Watching this had me flung back into my seat, gob smacked and in awe of the unrelenting nature of this movie. I was pulled in, enjoying it, only to be pushed back, resenting it, and then ultimately being pulled back in again. The first hour is sensational. I couldn’t have loved it more. The way Aronofsky writes is brilliant in the most uncomfortable of ways, matched with visuals and performances that blow this thing through the roof. Jennifer Lawrence has been better, there’s no doubt about it, but her performance here goes to places we haven’t seen from the Oscar nominated actress before. She takes her character to some dark, violent places, where the world is anything but her oyster, and she kills it.
Paired with the likes of Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, on top of fleeting appearances by Domhnall Gleeson and Kristen Wiig, everyone involved showcases a different side to their acting ability. Mother! isn’t a movie about the performances. They work, they’re good and it creates a terrifying experience, but that’s just it. It’s an experience. The second half takes a big leap forward, propelling the “story” into something even more unconventional than it previously was, and this is where audiences are either going to be lost in the madness or in love with the insanity. I sat on the fence for a great deal of it, unsure which side I folded towards, but I’m glad I stuck with it, for once the credits rolled, I was changed person.
There are almost too many ideas floating around within the film’s boarders. Characters and plot elements are dropped without hesitation, often leading to a questioning of why some of it was even needed in the first place, but it’s Aronofsky’s dedication to the cause that brings this thing to a close. A choice to have no score adds to the chaos, for the sound design carries the film to victory. I don’t know if I can stomach watching this film again. It’s not necessarily one to obsessively rewatch, except for those who are no-doubt going to be analysing its every frame, attempting to uncover the hidden truths buried deep inside. If you find it, let me know.
3 1/2 Stars
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