Bardem and Lawrence play a couple who live in a remote location. He is a poet who is suffering a severe case of writer’s block, and she is the innocent, loving wife who is supportive of her husband and tries to stay out of his way by renovating their home while he tries to kickstart his creative juices again. Here comes my first issue with this film. An abstract scene in the starting moments of the film, followed by visions that Lawrence has whilst she is renovating the home, essentially gives a huge part of the narrative away. I usually try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but considering that this was my conclusion literally five minutes into the film, it would not spoil the reader’s experience – we’re in a cycle here, folks!
Late one evening, there is a knock at the door, and an enigmatic older man (Ed Harris) is invited in to their home. Invitation soon turns to intrusion as other characters related to this man, subsequently begin to turn up – including the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer, who plays the original visitor’s wife. It seems very Rosemary’s Baby-esque, how these strange people keep turning up and are invited in by the poet husband, whilst the supportive wife subtly glares at him across the room, for doing so. Needless to say, he ignores her minor protests and there is more than a hint that not all is as it seems. Following incident after inappropriate incident by the guests, the couple’s relationship begins to strain, coming to a head soon after. And just as you think that the storm has passed, you realise you are in the eye of the hurricane.
What follows is a muddled mess of allegory and sexual symbolisms. It is not quite clear what statement Aronofsky was trying to make here. It is as if he wanted to make a significant one, but couldn’t quite decide on which, so went with all of them! This results in an underwhelming film, even for the thinkers in the audience. Of course, such films are known to have complex and multiple-layered statements weaved into them, but this film begins as one thing and ends as something quite different.
Following the conclusion of Mother! I began thinking about other films – such as Children of Men, Eraserhead, Lost Highway, etc. – and although these films were all deeply allegorical, they seemed to ironically have a clear (try telling that to my film students!!) focus on what these layers were. This is something that Mother! did not seem to do. The opening sequence of Lynch’s Eraserhead for example, announces to you what to expect for the film’s duration – you can have no misgivings with this film. Mother! on the other hand, does not do this. It announces itself as one film, and ends as a completely different one – along the way, signposting some pretty ‘spoilery’ things that spoil the experience further for you. At least allow us to keep guessing while we navigate this ‘bowl-of-spaghetti’ of a film. Imagine watching M. Night Shyamalan’s The 6th Sense for the first time, and in the opening scene Bruce Willis announces he’s just died, but enjoy the movie anyway.
For an abstract film, Mother! is perhaps too abstract. It doesn’t really decide what kind of film it is, nor what it is trying to convey to its audience.
By Andreas Charalambous - 17th September 2017
Darren Aronofsky’s abstract horror film Mother! is a divisive one – as most films with a foot firmly placed in the ‘surreal’ cinema camp always seem to. You have the types of audience who will watch this film expecting a straight-up horror story, and you also have the types who will be expecting an intellectual text with deep allegory.
Before we continue, let me just clarify my position here. Yes – I am a huge fan of the horror genre who really appreciates straight-up horror films. I am also a film scholar who is guilty of putting my film students through screenings of some of the most bizarre, abstract works ever committed to film. I can still hear the screams of my former students as they study surrealist cinema following screenings of films such as those of Jan Švankmajer, Luis Buñuel, David Lynch, and yes, even Aronofsky. So, I get such films that are not so much standard popcorn fodder, but more symbolic and abstract ‘thinking’ films.
So, a brief history in the lead-up to this film coming to our screens: Aronofsky started the allegorical theme with a statement explaining that the film was a personal reaction to the modern world, which is fair enough. The film-loving population often enjoys visions of their lives being broken down and fed back to them in the sophisticated, artful medium that is film.
Mother! seems to be a film that not only divides the audience as I have mentioned, but also leaves both camps feeling somewhat underwhelmed. What Mother! clearly is, is an artfully shot film, with the two lead actors – Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence – giving the kind of performances that you would expect from two of the acting world’s finest talents. After all, they can only act out what has been scripted for them.