mother! and It are in a battle for the top prize of “most talked about horror film with a one word title to come out in the past few weeks” – and while both have their merits and are well-deserved trending topics, the fear of a shape-shifting killer clown does not hold a candle to being forced to host a party for hundreds of strangers who won’t leave.
Uncomfortably claustrophobic and tedious, mother! is a painfully slow burn in the absolute best way possible. With deftly choreographed camerawork and likely the most grueling and demanding performance of Jennifer Lawrence’s career, Aronofsky unapologetically throws the audience into unabashed chaos of biblical proportions. Before its descent into hell, the first half of mother! feels like it is treading through mud, mirroring the emotions of the unnamed heroine. None of the characters have names because they aren’t human beings- they are personified representations of abstract concepts. She (Lawrence) is mother earth, he (Javier Bardem) is God, or she is Eve and he is Adam, or perhaps he is representative of mankind and she is representative of womankind- this is all up to interpretation, which I am more than welcoming of in lieu of films with easy answers.
In their mansion in the middle of nowhere that Mother has poured her soul into carefully restoring, ‘He’ invites strangers to carelessly make themselves at home and use up the mansion’s resources- either out of the kindness of his heart or the incessant desire for worship and validation at the expense of his doting wife. This film paints a portrait of the way the world began and the way its origins are reflected in human nature: the grander scale being the creation of the universe and the smaller scale being what is expected of individual wives and mothers. Its eschewing of conventional narrative structure or any indication that it takes place in our reality works in its favor because it places a higher emphasis on allegory and metaphor.
mother! deserves all of the press it has been receiving, both negative and positive- because if nothing else, it is a film worth discussing. And it is a perfect platform for debate because every aspect of mother! has a foot in each camp. It is both boring and enthralling, psychological thriller and farcical comedy, feminist and anti-feminist, meaningful and meaningless. Rare that a film manages to be all of these things simultaneously without sudden flip-flopping between two opposing adjectives, especially one with a wide theatrical release. But of all films to pull it off, it must be this one, with its controversial director and a controversial actress in a film that blatantly disregards all logic and conventional narrative structure. Even its title, lower-case mother exclamation point, is a big middle finger to conventionality. This is not a film written to be loved, it is a film written to be talked about. This can be either admirable or nauseating because while it provides opportunities to learn and discuss, it also gives film snobs the undeserved platform to shout “you just don’t get it” through a megaphone atop their high horse in the middle of a busy intersection. But being unconventional and using artistic symbolism shouldn’t be written off as a gimmick, it should be celebrated as long as it is engaging- and this is the most uniquely mind-bending film to get a wide release this year.