Auteur Darren Aronofsky makes films that are thought-provoking, riveting and divisive. It is impossible to fit any of his work neatly into one genre. The genius who brought us ‘Black Swan,’ ‘The Wrestler’ and ‘Requiem for a Dream’ creates original stories that arouse strong emotions from the audience. After viewing his latest film ‘mother!,’ the question emerges, “WTF is going on here?” It will inspire you to figure out the meaning behind the allegorical tale. Make no mistake about it; this is not a traditional popcorn horror film. It’s been compared to Roman Polanski’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ but its themes are far broader and more ambitious. It grapples with biblical symbolism, creativity and the price of fame. ‘Mother!’ is guaranteed to get under your skin and make you want to deconstruct its meaning. That’s the sign of a true masterpiece.
The opening scene is a Victorian house located in the middle of a field surrounded by trees. Once ravaged by fire, a young bride simply known as Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) takes pride in restoring the rustic home for her husband Him (Javier Bardem), a once successful poet with a case of extreme writer’s block. Although they seem to be in love, he seems to take his beautiful and caring wife for granted. She’s always cleaning, cooking and meticulously renovating the house. She says, “I want to make a paradise.” At one point, she feels a beating heart when she places her hands on the walls. A slow burn of creepy events begins to happen in the house. It’s not long before the couple’s tranquil existence is interrupted by a knock on the door.
A stranger (Ed Harris) appears at the door. He was misinformed that the house was a bed-and-breakfast. Bardem’s character invites him in to stay the night to the consternation of his wife. The next day the man’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up. They turn out to be the house guests from hell. They make themselves at home. She is disrespectful to her host by asking questions about her sex life and if she ever plans to have children with her much older husband. Soon afterwards her two sons show up (Brian and Domhnall Gleeson) at the doorstep. Then more and more people show up until they destroy all of Mother’s home improvements. Aronofsky shoots the film in extreme close-ups. The camera is always tight on Lawrence’s face. We see everything that is happening through her perspective. It’s an electrifying performance from the actress. We want all the chaos to stop as much as she does.
Without revealing too much, let’s delve into some of the meaning behind this provocative film. It is all about the Bible. Lawrence said it perfectly in an interview. “For Darren to take these massive biblical themes and condense them into a narrative about a house and a couple I think is just brilliant.” She goes on to say, “It depicts the rape and torment of Mother Earth. It’s not for everybody. It’s a hard film to watch.” She’s spot on! Lawrence represents Mother Earth. Bardem’s character represents a form of God. Ed Harris is Adam and Michelle Pfeiffer is Eve. Their two sons are Cain and Abel and the remote location resembles the Garden of Eden. That’s all you need to know going into ‘mother!’ If you’re going to see it because America’s sweetheart Jennifer Lawrence is in the lead role, be warned that this is a very dark film. It’s not just a scary thriller but a macabre tale that at times feels like a cinematic dagger going through your heart.
The fun aspect about this mystery is that Aronofsky wants audiences to find their own interpretation in his work rather than spell it out for everyone. The final 25 minutes is astonishing and punishing. One of the clues behind the intense climax is in the title being lowercased with an exclamation point. Aronofsky is quoted as saying, “It’s important to reflect back on ourselves and think about what’s really going on in the world to be able to change it.” Love it or hate it, ‘mother!’ is a cinematic achievement that you need to see to believe.