Regardless of whether you love it or hate it, “Mother!” is a no-holds-barred allegory which will shake you up a lot during your viewing. I must confess that I was baffled during its rather ponderous first act, but then I was amused during its viciously humorous second act, and then I was flabbergasted by its totally deranged third act. Seriously, I am still trying to sort out what I think and feel about the film, but this is surely an ambitious piece of work, and I sort of admire how it willingly challenges us by any means necessary.
Right from its opening scene, the movie reminds us of its warped reality as introducing to us a couple at the center of its story: ‘Him’ (Javier Bardem) and ‘Mother’ (Jennifer Lawrence). They live together alone in a big house located in some remote area, and everything looks fine for them at first, but then we come to feel a subtle sense of strain inside the house. Him, who is a middle-aged poet, has been stuck in writer’s block for a while, and he does not feel that happy although he is mostly cordial to his young wife, who is usually occupied with re-decorating their house.
And then someone comes to their house on one day. While he initially presents himself as an accidental passerby, it is apparent that he wants something from Him, and, to Mother’s dismay, he will not soon leave the house as Him gladly allows that man to be in the house as long as he can. After all, how can he possibly say no to someone who seems to admire his work a lot?
The situation becomes more complicated when another uninvited figure appears at the front door of the house. That figure is none other than the aforementioned man’s wife, and, not so surprisingly, she also comes to hang around Him and Mother just like her husband, who turns out to have a serious health problem and is accordingly allowed to stay in the house along with his wife. As increasingly annoyed by these two strangers, Mother tries to be patient and polite to them, but they often seem to get on her nerve deliberately.
The first act of the movie feels tedious at times, but it is thankfully enlivened by two talented supporting performers in the film. While Ed Harris is subtly insinuating in his seemingly mild appearance, Michelle Pfeiffer chews every moment of her scenes with vicious gusto, and her darkly amusing supporting performance shows us that she has not lost any of her talent although it has been nearly 30 years since she drew our attention with her Oscar-nominate turn in “Dangerous Liaisons” (1988).
During the second act, the movie becomes more interesting in a way I will not describe in detail. Another unexpected thing happens in the house, and Mother subsequently becomes more frustrated and exasperated as that results in more disturbance in her house. She simply wants to have a quiet peaceful time with her husband, but that seems to be the last thing to come to his mind as he faithfully does what he is expected to do.
In the meantime, she finds herself often unnerved by some hallucinogenic moments. There is the ominous image of a pulsating object, which frequently appears throughout the film. And then there is a weird moment involved with a certain type of stain on the wooden floor, which eventually leads her to something hidden in the basement of the house.
Around its third act, the movie becomes darker and more twisted than before, and director/writer Darren Aronofsky pulls out all the stops for that. As cinematographer Matthew Libatique’s handheld camera fluidly moves here and there inside the house, we behold our unfortunate heroine pushed further into more madness and confusion, and there are several intense moments which will definitely make you cringe for good reasons.
If you are familiar with Aronofsky’s previous works, this overwhelming experience will probably not surprise you. As shown from “Pi” (1998), “Requiem for a Dream” (2000), “The Wrestler” (2008), and “Black Swan” (2010), he has always drawn to intense, feverish human condition, and his movies always left considerable impression on me and other audiences. When I recently revisited “Requiem for a Dream”, I was surprised again by how it vividly conveys the sense of addiction, and then I was emotionally overwhelmed again by its stark, despairing finale. While I did not like “Noah” (2014) a lot, I still remember a number of striking images in that film, and they often make me wonder whether I should have been less harsh in my two-star review.
Aronofsky usually demands considerable efforts from his lead performers, and “Mother!” is no exception. Although she stumbles a bit at times due to the contrived aspects of her character, Jennifer Lawrence is willing to go all the way as demanded, and the result is another interesting performance in her stellar career. In case of Javier Bardem, he functions well as the ground for his co-performer’s acting, and his performance will look more amusing if you reflect on his character later.
While it is less successful than “Requiem for a Dream” or “Black Swan”, “Mother!” is more interesting than “The Fountain” (2006) and “Noah”, so I recommend it with some reservation. Sure, it does not wholly succeed in its reach for greatness, but there are some memorable things to talk and discuss about in the film, and I think we should appreciate that at least.