For those familiar with the directorial stylings of Darren Aronofsky, mother! starts off not too dissimilar from what one would expect. Like The Wrestler and Black Swan, mother! keeps the camera close behind its star, almost as if Aronofsky wants the audience to literally live in their skin. In many ways, mother! is almost the conclusion of Aronosky’s self-harm trilogy, where his leads give and give all they can of themselves for the creation of art. But Aronofsky makes a decision to throw subtlety to the wind, indulging the ambitious, bombastic style shown in The Fountain, yet contained into a smaller, more personal story. Mother! allows Aronosky to unify his his two wildly varying styles in one of the most insane and ballsy films ever released by a major studio.
Mother! takes place entirely within a fixer upper home in the middle of nowhere, inhabited by a couple known simply as mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and Him (Javier Bardem). Mother has made it her mission to remodel Him’s home, which was previously destroyed by a fire. He was once a famous writer, who has lost his inspiration and meanders around trying to recapture his muse, as she makes the house close to what it once was.
One night, a doctor (Ed Harris) appears at their door, mistaking their home away from civilization as a bed-and-breakfast. Him offers the man to stay the night, despite the error and his wife’s wishes. The next day, the doctor’s wife shows up (Michelle Pfeiffer). More people file through the home. Then more. And more.
As the home becomes visited by an increasing amount of strangers, Him welcomes them with open arms, while mother begins to feel lost in her own home. She is a stranger in the world that she has created with her own hands.
Aronofsky has intentionally made mother! as a secretive affair to be unraveled with an inquisitive and confused audience, and much of the fun is trying to embrace the madness and uncertainty. As previously mentioned, Aronofsky and cinematographer Matthew Libatique keeps the camera tight on Lawrence, a claustrophobic technique when used in this way. But the way Aronofsky plays with the progression of time and even the construction of the home makes this close-up approach even more mystifying, as the audience never knows how when or where the film will take them whenever they enter a new room in the home. Mother is thrown into a world foreign to her, and so is the audience.
In a film that revels in how crazy things can get, Lawrence is equally restrained, struggling to speak up against the crowds that make her life a living hell. Lawrence is often relegated to little more than a tool for the use of Him and her performance turns her into a quiet, almost subservient assistant rather than a partner. Lawrence has to present almost every emotion possible throughout mother!, more often than not with no dialogue at all, and Lawrence does so effortlessly. In a film that is anything but understated, Lawrence is a pillar of muted suppression.
Without spoiling the surprises that Aronofsky has literally around every corner, he takes a darkly comedic look at society that would make Luis Buñuel proud, while harboring a deep love for Roman Polanski and Lars von Trier. Mother! even comes close as humanly possible to a major studio’s version of Antichrist and shares many of the same ideas – which mother! has plenty. Mother! evokes The Bible, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie in almost equal measures. Mother! should be a wild, unintelligible mess, but instead becomes one of the most engrossing metaphors for love, loss, and life in recent memory.
One of the year’s most exhilarating films, mother! is the culmination of Aronofsky’s tinkering with his past ideas into a cohesive, yet still puzzling experiment. Hilarious, clandestine and borderline maniacal, mother! is Aronofsky giving and giving to his audience, and with films as curious as this, it can never be enough.