Despite being one of the most talented directors out there, Darren Aronofsky’s last movie “Noah,” an American epic biblical drama, was not well received by the public or critics. After the poor ratings his movie received, viewers thought Aronofsky would move forward, and leave religious movies behind. But audiences couldn’t have been more wrong, but interestingly enough, they could also be right at the same time.
His new movie “mother!” is full of religious symbolism and metaphors, but to limit the interpretation to spiritualism would fall short, because there is so much more to it.
“mother!” is about a nameless couple that lives in a remote country home. Javier Bardem is a poet with writer’s block, and Jennifer Lawrence is his young wife, who not only takes care of the household, but also renovates the old mansion completely on her own after a devastating fire. Their idyll gets harshly interrupted when suddenly a stranger, played by Ed Harris, knocks on their door. While the poet welcomes the attention from the stranger, who turns out to be a huge fan, the wife is rather reluctant and perturbed by his presence and rude behavior. The next day the stranger’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up, and eventually his children, but that is only the very beginning – their relaxed country life comes to an end and an incredible tour de force begins for Jennifer Lawrence’s character.
This only covers the first 20 minutes of the movie, and even though there are no huge spoilers or twists (except for the final scene), it would be unfair to reveal more about the plot since one of the most enjoyable aspects of the film was never knowing where this movie was going and wondering what might happen next. The worse it gets for Jennifer Lawrence’s character, the more interpretations open up to the audience. The more people come into the house to admire the poet who distances himself from his desperate wife, the more she feels like a stranger in her own house.
Similar to Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Revenant,” Lawrence doesn’t make any compromises with her acting and the way she portrays an emotionally and physically tormented woman is simply outstanding. She gives everything she has, and a second Oscar seems within her reach for her performance in this film.
Just like his main actress, Aronofsky gives everything to get the most out of a very limited script: there are just a few speaking roles, and everything takes place in the house. But what the director makes out of this simple premise is simply breathtaking. He seems to fit the whole world into his claustrophobic set, and the whole world is after Jennifer Lawrence. This is where the film has strong parallels to real life where an actress’s private space is not only violated but also forcefully invaded. It is clear that both Aronofsky and Lawrence, who also began dating during production, share a lot of their own negative experiences about the press and persistent “fans,” and channeled that frustration to create something larger than themselves, yet truly personal.
As in every movie of Aronofsky’s, the cinematography and art direction are outstanding. He has a fine sense for the right tone, and his regular cinematographer Matthew Libatique forges his director’s nightmarish vision precisely on 16mm film stock, just as if it were his own.
Another huge contribution to the eerie vibe of the movie is the sound design. Just for the sound alone it is worth watching “mother!” in a movie theater. When opening doors make breathing noises and the house slowly turns into Sodom & Gomorrah on crystal meth, what we hear is often more creepy than what we see.
But don’t think this movie is subtle when it comes to on-screen violence. This movie will shock many audience members to their core, and for some of them it will be too much, but an R-rating should be a warning sign for squeamish film fans. Just like Gaspar Noe, Aronofsky never uses violence as an end in itself. It has a bigger context, and the movie wouldn’t be the same unnerving experience without it. Kudos to Paramount for releasing the movie as is. Not many studios would be brave enough to do so but rather try to compromise the director’s vision in order to make it more accessible and ultimately more profit for the shareholders. The fact that a movie like this is distributed and produced by a major studio is almost as fascinating as the movie itself.
This amazing bouquet of paranoia, violence and symbolism is something special; so don’t expect a movie with a stringent storyline. “mother!” is rather an unprecedented audiovisual experience that will keep haunting you for quite a while.
Overall Rating: 9/10
If you enjoyed these movies, you’ll love “mother!”
Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan, Rosemary’s Baby, Irreversible, Antichrist
Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky
With Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnell Gleeson, Kristen Wiig
Produced by Paramount Pictures
Cinematography by Matthew Libatique
Music by Jóhann Jóhannsson
Edited by Andrew Weisblum
121 min, R-rated