Dir. Darren Aronofsky
Scr. Darren Aronofsky
Okay, this is gonna be one difficult piece to write. Especially after only 24 hours have passed since seeing the film, because I get this feeling that it’s going to roll around up there in the brain for quite a long time still. So you could say that the final opinion is still in a formative stage. But, I’ll try to sum up some of my thoughts and observations here regardless.
The other challenge is to write about the film without spoiling it, which is VERY difficult. And as the Internet is already filled with various articles about “the meaning of mother!” or “the ending of mother! decrypted” or whatever, I think I’ll just say “fuck it” and end this paragraph by saying that there WILL BE SPOILERS HERE, SO BEWARE.
Alright, the short synopsis first: a married couple – a poet known only as “Him” (Javier Bardem) and his younger wife, “Mother” (Jennifer Lawrence) live in a large manor-like house surrounded by an idyllic landscape. Him is suffering from a case of writers block, while the Mother spends her days renovating the house. One night a stranger, only known as “Man” (Ed Harris) knocks on the door and is invited in by Him. Man – who is clearly ill from some disease, as he keeps having violent coughing fits – first explains that he mistook the house as a boarding house, but as its late, Him allows Man to stay for the night. Man is also showing a disturbing interest over a piece of crystal that Him has on the shelf of his writing room. Next day the Mans wife, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives to the house. The couple clearly show no signs of wishing to leave the house, and despite Mothers objections, Him seems to enjoy the life this new company brings to the place. The behavior of the couple becomes more and more unhinged – as does the behavior of Him – and all this escalates as the two sons of Man and Woman enter the house, arguing over the Last Will of the Man and a fight ensues and ends with the death of one of the sons.
That was pretty much what the official synopsis of the film ended up telling, and I think you can agree that it reads as something of a home invasion-thriller slash psychodrama. The thing is though, that all of that was pretty much just the FIRST ACT of the movie. And not even the whole first act. It’s after that synopsis where things get completely unhinged – while there was a lot of tension tingling under the surface before it already. You saw parts of it in the trailer: after one of the sons die, Him agrees to let the couple have a Wake in the house, and the thing turns into a surrealistic nightmare played entirely from Jennifer Lawrence’s point of view (not a direct POV, but the camera only follows her), as the house is filled with more and more strangers, who show complete and utter disregard over Mothers feelings of the whole situation. All the while Him is simply enjoying the company of all these new people and acting just as oblivious to Mothers growing distress.
And that was only the first time this occurs.
I can tell you what this film is not: it’s not an easy watch. I was mentioning earlier this week how Dario Argento‘s Suspiria is one of those films that captures very well what being inside a nightmare feels like. Well that’s what Darren Aronofsky and his usual Director of Photography Matthew Libatique are doing here as well; with a strictly hand-held camera that is locked in following only Lawrence’s Mother throughout, the way the house is swarmed with more and more people (also helped by the slowly turning more and more loud and unnerving sound design. There is absolutely no musical score in this film at all – not until the end credit song) feels very much like we’re looking at a nightmare from which the dreamer can’t awake from. That scene (and a later one, even moreso) is so effective that I have to wonder if the studio ever had in mind to put a disclaimer in front of the film warning viewers who may be prone to anxiety attacks or have even a mild case of claustrophobia to proceed with caution…
So it’s all a dream then?
No. Granted – that could surely be one of the many explanations. And it would be a correct one. But then again, so could any other explanation be. You see – it’s also been established that Mother is having serious anxiety-attacks and experiencing strange visions throughout and is taking some unnamed medication to mute all this out.
So – it’s all in her mind and she’s slowly losing it? It’s basically like Roman Polanski‘s Repulsion?
No. Or “yes” – it’s certainly one way to interpret it and it could very well explain the last act. After that first nightmarish experience is over and the guests kicked out, the second act goes all serene again as Him gets his creative juices back and mother gets pregnant. The house is restored again from all the damage the visitors caused, he finishes a new book (we never learn what it’s about – we only see its effect on people) which sells large quantities all over the world.
Then begins the absolutely insane centerpiece of the film; probably the most audience-divisive 25-minute scene ever made, where the media, representatives of Him and finally swarms and swarms of fans of the book arrive and basically siege the house, while Mother is just on a brink of giving birth. In those 25 minutes Mother is basically exposed to All the Evil Shit Mankind has Ever Been Capable Of in The Course of Its History and its a truly surreal, nightmare of a sequence – right up to its explosive Apocalyptic end. It’s a bravura of a scene: a true assault on the unsuspecting audience. It’s and endless escalation of movement, sound and chaos made alive by the acting, camerawork, editing and sound mixing….
I was trying to find some comparison to this sequence from any other artist working in any visual form, and then it hit me: if anyone of you has read the Frank Miller-written comic Hard-Boiled – drawn by Geoff Darrow -you might recall that on several occasions Darrow fills a two-page A3 space with one single panel, that’s filled from edge to edge with people engaged in whatever kind of violent, twisted or depraved activity one can imagine. THAT’S essentially what they did here – only with moving image and a wall of sound.
Yes: I noticed, like many others, that the audience response on Cinemascore was an “F”. I don’t know what the fuck Cinemascore even is, but I assume it’s some simple “click a button right after seeing the film”-type thingy. Well – I can just see the Regular Joe moviegoers who were expecting to just see some horror-film race to that button after watching that last act. Now, I can understand that Paramount’s marketing department was probably struggling really hard in how to market this film. Kudos to Paramount for giving it a green light while knowing it would probably be challenging viewing. Kinda makes me think of 20th Century Fox and Fight Club back in the day.
Okay, so what I think it’s about? Well – reading all sorts of reviews and articles after watching it I noticed that my interpretation was the one that many others shared. The moment the light bulb lit up in my head was during that hellish last act: Him writes a book, masses of people read it and start to interpret it in their own ways, they begin to worship His image in all kinds of perverted ways and start fighting with each other while destroying the home and assaulting Mother in the process. Him tries to calm the masses down by presenting them His son, but it all goes horribly wrong and the son is killed. And they try to show their twisted worship of Him by (literally) consuming the son’s flesh. Mother, overwhelmed by all of this, goes down the basement and sets a fire next to the oil tank which explodes and burns the whole house down…
If you don’t get it at this point, you’re probably one of those people racing to click that “F” button.
Simply put, it’s about creation and everything going to hell after humanity overpopulates, begins to worship the creator, starts fighting amongst themselves in the name of the creator and all the while neglects Mother Nature. In the end she burns everything up. It’s definitely a more cerebral take on religion than Aronofsky’s previous film Noah. No Stone Giants either.
That was my take on it.
But – that’s not the only way to see it either: my friend who I went to see the film with had an entirely different view of it. With her permission, I now quote her interpretation of the thing:
“It’s about Internet/Social Media-addiction. How the people can’t just be with each other, and the World spills inside their home: friends, friends of friends, wars, religion, poverty, media, sex. Having a child calms things down for a while, but even that has to be shared to everyone. One tries to keep the world outside, while the other is addicted from fame, fortune, likes and comments. She tries to love, but only gets little pieces of him at a time. She gets overwhelmed by this and ends up burning all that was old and familiar in her life, losing her heart in the process. He simply continues the cycle of addiction with another person all over again”.
And my friend would be just as correct.
There really ISN’T one single “right” way to interpret mother!. It’s one of those rare cases of a filmmaker getting what essentially is a provocative art movie released through a major studio – which kinda advertised is as more of a genre film although it’s anything but. Honestly I don’t even know what genre this would fall in. I get a feeling there’s gonna be years worth of analyzing and debating over this film. I’ve always felt that art is what makes you think of it afterwards for a long time. That being the case, mother! surely fills that category.
Annabelle: Creation sure as hell didn’t make me endlessly theorize about it for days on end. And that was the last film I saw in the theater before this.
It’s Aronofsky, which pretty much means you will either love it or hate it. In either case, it will certainly evoke a strong response.
(I don’t know if any of these ramblings made one single iota of sense – like I said: I’m still processing. I noticed that I haven’t mentioned the cast at all. I’ll just say that each and every one of them gives one hell of a performance. )