★★ / ★★★★
Too many movies of today are so bland, so vanilla, they are forgotten even before the credits roll. I believe the great thing about “mother!,” written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, is that the viewer will not walk away from it without an opinion or, at the very least, a strong impression—even if, at the time, one is unable to put into words the blender of emotions that come with the experience. Yes, it can be maddening at times, particularly the final forty minutes, but it is also intriguing as a horror film. Polarity is interesting.
There is curiosity in the story because it appears to follow a familiar horror template of a couple (Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem) living in isolation whose peace is disturbed by strangers (Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer). We observe as the elements are introduced and fall into place like clockwork until we come to a conclusion as to what might be going on underneath the niceties and sudden passive-aggressive remarks. I thought the revelation is going to be deathly similar to a certain psychological horror film from the 1960s that was written and directed by Roman Polanski. I was elated to have been proven wrong.
Although not the most digestible work, I enjoyed putting some of the pieces together and realizing eventually that these pieces can also fit together a different way, paving several other ways to interpret the message of the story. To me, it is a criticism of how our society, certainly applicable to American standards, has normalized women having a certain place and for them to defy or step over the line that has been drawn by patriarchy is considered to be horrific by those in power. An evidence of this observation is when Lawrence’s character finds herself reluctant to take action or ashamed when she feels the need to speak up and inform her guests, whom her husband has welcomed, that they need to leave. After all, we have this idea that women are supposed to bear the inconvenience of having a chaotic home and get it all under control.
But interesting messages do not necessarily make a good movie. There is craft to appreciate here, particularly in how the writer-director builds the tension behind the mystery. It is done through showing curious images like a mass of deformed tissue clogging up a toilet, a strange bloody hole on the wooden floor, a possible hidden door in the cellar. One can even study the face of the husband when his wife attempts to encourage him through his writer’s block. There is almost always a hint of annoyance and frustration there. Perhaps a part of him considers that the mothering is contributing to his state of stagnancy.
Most problematic is the final third of the project because the metaphor is so heavy and long-winded that it tests the viewers patience more than it demands to be carefully considered, to be thought about. Credit to Aronofsky for making the assumption that some viewers would be willing to look past the extreme and desultory images. However, this portion of the film comes across as self-congratulatory, perhaps even self-masturbatory, rather than something to be appreciated in silence. Sometimes subtlety and silence is the correct way to go about an allegory.