by Sherry Lipp
The Lowdown: mother! tries too hard to be something and ultimately collapses into an incomprehensible mess.
Anything good about Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is ruined in its bombastic final act. The film starts out as a study in isolation and paranoia, but ends up collapsing under its own weight as it piles on an endless stream of ideas that go nowhere. In an attempt to provoke his audience, Aronofsky loses control of his film. It’s a true case of not being able to see the forest for the trees.
A man (Javier Bardem) and his young wife (Jennifer Lawrence) live in an enormous home that is in the middle of nowhere. There house is surrounded on all sides by grass and trees. Nonetheless they receive a visit from a mysterious stranger (Ed Harris) whom the man invites to stay with them. The stranger seems nice enough, but the wife is concerned about having a stranger in their house. The next morning the stranger’s own wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up and the couple promptly makes themselves at home.
Soon enough more people come, things get weird, and the wife finds herself surrounded by a house full of strangers. For a while mother! feels like a bad dream. It does a great job of capturing that dream logic where nothing really makes sense, but somehow in the dream it does. It’s surreal, scary, and unsettling. Where is it all going?
Unfortunately it goes nowhere. The film touches on fame, narcissism, fanaticism, and idolatry, but doesn’t truly explore these issues in a meaningful way. The husband is a poet of some renown, but he’s suffering from writer’s block. He’s unable to create without the knowledge that his work is being adored by someone who he doesn’t know. As soon as he gets recognition from the stranger he is able to create again, but his thirst for adulation is insatiable and he craves it above anything else.
It’s an interesting concept, but the film devolves into over-the-top imagery meant to shock rather than provoke thought. I have found that explaining what the film is about makes it sound far more interesting than it actually is. The subject matter is interesting. Religion, isolation, the destruction of our planet – they’re all great topics, but none of them are explored to their fullest potential here.
Is Lawrence’s character a symbol of Mother Earth? Is the home they live in, and that is invaded by a cacophony of characters, the embodiment of our online lives? The poet doesn’t care who likes him just as long as he is liked. It seems to be both and more, ultimately never really fitting together.
The final moments are distasteful, not just because of what’s depicted, but because it all feels so pointless by then. What began as a tense, slow-burn, depiction of isolation is turned upside down and it’s almost like a slap in the face to anyone who might actually enjoy just a good story. It turns out it’s not about the story at all, but what it’s trying to be is never clear.
mother! images: Paramount