If you aren’t a fan of quote on quote “pretentious cinema” then you may want to turn around – as this is decidedly as very unfriendly film for your typical moviegoers.
Mother! viscerally forces you through the intimate perspective of a youthful wife (Jennifer Lawrence) as she is thrown deep into a pit of dark and demented metaphors.
From the very first frame to the very last, this entire film drowns you in a slew of metaphor, symbolism, and religious iconography – Mother! doesn’t hold back with its dark and dreary themes and certainly makes a point of raising the audiences blood pressure as it relentlessly puts the lead character in increasingly stressful scenarios. Aronofsky wrote the script for this film in a matter of days, and it is evident that the overlapping metaphors are truly an overflow of creative ideas that Aronofsky melded into a seamless dark story. His visual storytelling, more specifically “metaphorical visual storytelling” has become more prevalent throughout his career, like his deeply entrancing film The Fountain (2006), it seems he has taken it several steps further with Mother!.
Jennifer Lawrence offers up arguably her best performance ever, with a lot of expressive acting and intensely horrifying moments of fear and despair – she elegantly moves through the film remaining as an innocent dove with a soft and shiny youthful face. We are also accompanied by a gentle yet deeply unsettling emotional performance from supporting actor Javier Bardem; he plays the role of the overtly generous and delusional husband. His character helps build a lot of the tension throughout the film and brings your general mistrust of his character to a whole new level. With supporting roles from Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris, we get some equally magnificent performances that stand alone as their own creepy and starkly different personalities. All the performances were magnificent and were certainly one the films strongest features.
Visually the camera lens is glued on Jennifer Lawrence’s shoulder or at a closeup view of her face throughout the course of the film. This distinct single person perspective helps elevate anxiety and tension as you confront the constantly changing scenarios that this film drops on you. We get erratic editing and quick cuts when alarming things begin to transpire for our lead character; it’s almost as if the film is attempting to portray something akin to a junkie getting high and going into a delirium – the dizzy and sometimes blurry imagery give you a sense of hallucination or the feeling that you’ve entered a bad dream. Stunning cinematography and camera-work meld together and remind one distinctly of the sequences Aronofsky explored in Requiem For a Dream (2000), such as the deluded mother that goes into deranged mental illness, or the drugs and withdrawal symptoms that cause intense pain and delusion.
The beautiful set design elegantly matches the ideals of a “perfect home” with a rustic and handmade texture to the entire house – we get familiar with the layout of the house and begin to even memorise its halls as you are guided throughout the beautiful set. The makeup and hairstyles were waxy and vintage – which only add the rustic and homely atmosphere. While the sets and hair design was exceptionally good, we do have some weak CGI at multiple moments through the film, some of which is very noticeable. The sound design was rich and as erratic as the camera-work, vividly portraying a sense of ASMR and severe tinnitus when the character is undergoing immense stress. The general use of sound in this film was beyond impressive, possibly the best of the year.
So what interpretation are we left with in this film? What might you ask is this film all about? Well, coming from a direct quote from the movie “everybody experiences it differently…“, and it’s true, Aronofsky has purposely layered this film to mean a multitude of different things. Many believe the film is about Mother nature and our misuse of the environment, some believe it is about the failings of marriage or maybe it’s about the Old and New Testament melding together, or maybe it’s about writers and how the audience judge and scrutinize a writer’s work despite the emotion they pour into it. What the film truly means may never be revealed, but there’s references to all these theories throughout the film – none are wrong or right, and maybe this is exactly what Aronofsky wants. Yes, this film isn’t a linear and clear story, but it’s interesting and leaves you scratching your chin. So, I respect that. While mainstream audiences may grit their teeth in frustration or disgust for this heavy themed film, there’s no denying it, I felt it was executed in a masterful way.