'Mother!' is madness in a film reel
Little was known about “Mother!” leading up to its release, and that is exactly as writer/director Darren Aronofsky wanted. Marketing for the film has been gearing it towards the horror genre, though that is nowhere near what the film truly is.
Still, it didn’t prevent the marketing team from producing one of the most memorable trailers in recent history. Use of pizzicato to stir and illicit heightened tension as the trailer ramps up the intensity is original and unnerving. “Mother!” itself could be described similarly.
There has been a lot of clamor about the film since its debut earlier this month at the Venice Film Festival─some good and some not so good. It has been hailed as the best piece of cinema since “A Clockwork Orange” but has also been booed and shamed for being too ludicrous in execution─there was audible laughter from a handful of viewers at the screening I attended.
“Mother!” is, to say the least, confusing. It is absurd, all over the place and rumor has it Aronofsky wrote the script in five days; yet it is all controlled by his sensationalized passion. Aronofsky forces you to think about his film and slowly but surely it comes together. After piecing together the elaborate puzzle, “Mother!” becomes something remarkable.
It feels as though a majority of audiences will severely misread the film and its intentions, and one review already has. It is important to understand that this film purposefully avoids conventional plot and logic to achieve its paranoia dream atmosphere.
Although the film is not entirely shrouded in mystery, it is best to know as little as possible plot-wise. Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem star as husband and wife who live in an isolated victorian home. The film’s opening shot displays the house in fire and ash and we come to learn that Lawrence rebuilt the entire home herself since its burning. Bardem has been facing severe writer’s block while Lawrence just wants the both of them to be happy. One day, a stranger, Ed Harris, appears at their home believing it to be a bed and breakfast. From there, “Mother!” transitions into an absurd ride.
“Mother!” takes on the qualities of a painting, unwavering and almost taunting its audience─it does not bend to your whim but rather presents itself proudly, with a pronounced exclamation mark, literally and figuratively.
Aronofsky and his films are not nearly as accessible as the works of other masters of craft like Tarantino or Nolan, since they feel like locked boxes that demand, not invite, the audience to unlock them. “Mother!” is no different, we follow the entirety of the film from Lawrence’s perspective─feeling the fear, anger and pain she endures.
Lawrence, already an Oscar winner, puts together the best performance of her young career, simmering and exploding with reason as the story unravels. Bardem is a stellar pair to Lawrence as he portrays his character with seeming a delight that feels devilish yet honest. It would be remiss to not mention Michelle Pfeiffer’s amazing appearance as Harris’s wife.
One piece of filmmaking that is almost always overlooked is sound design. “Mother!” makes ample use of sound design, using the house’s creaks and twinges as a score of its own with next to no songs or instrumentals. When a floor board noticeably adds to the tension of a scene, the sound department is doing something right.
Filmed on 16mm film, the picture quality is intentionally grainy to a small degree, creating a soft effect that is only added onto by the muted colors cinematographer Matthew Libatique showcases. With the audience following Lawrence, the camera moves and whips around the huge household, always keeping characters in line with each other but always adding that extra element of suspense that the film required at times.
“Mother!” is allegorical in nature, and for that, it succeeds at expanding itself to all sorts of heights, both biblical and social. This thematic approach is fresh and what makes the film so over-the-top amazing, but it also hinders the film by stretching itself across one too many points. But that said, the importance of the film isn’t to understand every little aspect of this encompassing film. It is hard to nitpick a film like this, however, and the idea of the film trying to hit all these thematic points is ultimately a positive sign of its ambition. Social divide and the interplay of man and woman is one that will perhaps resonate the most with audiences. The men of the film are free to create and make decisions while the women are seemingly without choice.
“Mother!” is not a film for everyone, it is audacious, brash and willing to upset an audience. A film unlike any other but one that feels like a powerful piece of art for display by Darren Aronofsky. Film students will be poring over it for years to come. Some are calling “Mother!” a fever dream of a nightmare, I call it something to behold.
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