Nothing Will Prepare You For ‘Mother!’ (Movie Review)

It is amazing that a gonzo film like Mother! exists. That doesn’t take away from the many weird movies that are out there, some heralded as masterpieces, but Mother! is not some indie debut or the product of a decade continually spewing out originality. Here is a film full of A-list talent, produced by a major studio and opening on over 2,000 screens for audiences to experience. I have no doubt the film will serve as an endurance test for many, but that does not take away from the achievement of this movie. Writer/director Darren Aronofsky has made an incredible piece of work that is somehow being pushed as a mainstream horror movie. Audiences may not be ready for what they get, but Mother! is here to mess with everyone’s head.


Jennifer Lawrence provides a tour de force performance as a young homemaker living with her husband (Javier Bardem) in an idyllic house out in the country. The husband is a famous poet with writer’s block. As he broods in his study, the wife (names are never given) keeps herself busy with remodeling work for their home. This tranquil life is suddenly disrupted by the arrival of a man (Ed Harris) and later his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer). There is a definite oddness to these people, but that is nothing compared to the many, many others who eventually show up at this formerly peaceful home.

Working as a wild allegory that utilizes dream logic to help tell its story, this psychological horror film has enough going on to provide years’ worth of term papers for students attempting to dissect the various meanings. Many of the themes are not necessarily new for Aronofsky, as Mother! delights in depicting states of paranoia, obsession, addiction, delusion and self-destruction. That in mind, his filmmaking ambition has reached new highs here. There may be some clear inspiration from a couple of notable Roman Polanski films, among others, but even with that in mind, Mother! is not like anything you’ve seen.

Perspective is key and Mother! finds Aronofsky’s regular cinematographer, Matthew Libatique, keeping the focus tight on Lawrence. Appearing in almost every frame of the movie, often in close-up, the narrow field of vision has the audience constantly in a state of keeping up, just as Lawrence is forced to. The first hour, in particular, begins the sort of game being played, as various people enter the home and it is up to Lawrence to evolve with the situation. Given how Bardem is in the persona of a man happy to let anyone in and hear what they have to say, the audience is basically in the role of a bystander constantly being disoriented.

There are some moments of calm, particularly at one point midway through the film, but it only serves as an uneasy period that allows the film to fill its atmosphere with dread. It may be a big house, but being confined to this setting means having to deal with an inevitable change that is sure to be significant. Part of what is great about a film like this is taking this time to consider what purpose it serves to be left in the dark in regards to what else is going on inside and outside of this home. Of course, this is a film that also makes it very apparent that everyone we see is a stand-in for aspects of a particular religious narrative.

The extended third act makes many of the ideas more evident when it comes to visualizing religious and environmental concerns. Others may find more to latch onto as well, but the sheer enormity of the situation that grows inside of this house is quite the cinematic experience to behold, no matter how one chooses to explain it. There’s uneasiness to what is being seen, but the way Aronofsky manages to build such pandemonium is all sorts of impressive. Considering how things spiral out of control from the starting point that was presented as how one could view a damaged, male creator to a treatise on God and how our planet functions, it’s amazing to see all of this portrayed under one roof.

It is also astounding to see Paramount provide Aronofsky with whatever he needed to make this film. Having already faced controversy with Noah, the studio seems to be just fine with letting man plow through ideas that grapple with nightmarish imagery and pair them with actors who were clearly excited to go on this truly wild ride. There is spellbinding work here, and it will certainly shock many simply expecting some domestic thriller that hints at something supernatural also at play.

Mother! is surreal horror at its finest. There are some minor issues I could dig into (maybe shave off the opening minutes for a slightly fresher experience), but it hardly takes away from the excellent filmmaking on display. Add on a terrific, emotional lead performance that is aided by plenty of other committed players and the film does little to betray the mood it is going for. Mother! does not stop to assist the audience, it plays out in all its weirdness and has skillfulness to spare, even as all hell breaks loose.

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