There are times when you can go to the movies, turn off your brain, and simply enjoy whatever is presented on the screen as what it is. mother!, despite being one of the most insane spectacles in recent film memory, is not one of those films.
You must pay attention to every second of the film because there literally is not one moment that isn’t represented by metaphor. The logline of the film is “A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence,” but that simple statement does little to prepare you for the craziness it hides.
Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem play that couple, who live in an idyllic house in the middle of the country. The uninvited guests are Ed Harris, a doctor, and his wife, played by Michelle Pfeiffer. Right from the start, Lawrence is tormented constantly. It begins slowly, with Bardem overruling her reasonable objection to allowing two strangers to stay in their house.
But things escalate quickly, with Pfeiffer, especially, proving to be the house guest from hell, pushing Lawrence around at every turn. When Lawrence turns to Bardem for support, she receives the equivalent of a shrug, making her feel even more isolated. After the guests’ two sons show up and start a heated argument in the house, that’s when things really go off the rails.
If you wonder why I’m referring to the characters by the actors’ names, that’s because none of them have real names. The film is heavy with Biblical references, and once you start understanding whom each character represents, the ideas that writer/director Darren Aronofsky tries to impart make a little more sense. A little.
But even if you’re able to comprehend the film’s metaphors, you’ll still be stunned by the swiftness in which events go from zero to outrageous. Many more people than just the initial houseguests make their way to the house, and each of them treats Lawrence with the same respect she’s gotten up to that point — which is to say, none.
It’s clear that Aronofsky has a dim view of the worth of humanity, as few, if any, of the people in the film have any redeeming qualities. They wantonly destroy things, run roughshod over Lawrence, and generally cause chaos. Aronofsky is far from the first to proffer an opinion on the destructive nature of humans, but the extent he goes to to express his disdain is impressive.
Lawrence is put through the wringer by the film, and it’s to her credit that she’s able to modulate her reactions as well as she does. The level of frustration brought on by the other characters indicates how fine a job the other actors — most notably Bardem, Harris, and Pfeiffer — do, as well.
mother! is a visceral, wild movie that may confound you as much as it entertains you. Aronofosky’s vision may not be for everyone, but it’s a hell of a ride.