Director: Darren Aronofsky
Running Time: 121 Minutes
Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! has not been making the kind of headlines that film studios enjoy reading. Lacklustre box office takings and mass audience walkouts have led to something of a lynch mob atmosphere in the entertainment press, with the chance to put critical and commercial darlings Aronofsky and Jennifer Lawrence on the dunking stool proving simply too much to pass up. All of the hubbub (which includes alt-right knuckleheads claiming that the film’s poor performance is due to Lawrence’s comments about Trump’s poor performance as a president/basic human being) has served to distract from the actual content of the film itself, which is one of the most berserk projects signed off on by a major studio in years. The mere fact that someone somewhere greenlit this is either a sign that creative risk taking in Hollywood isn’t dead or a herald of the upcoming apocalypse (or possibly both).
The basic setup for Mother! One night, a gruff stranger (Ed Harris) appears at the door and is inexplicably welcomed by the husband, even as he annoys the wife with his clumsiness, bad manners, and faux pas. The stranger’s own wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up the next morning, followed by more and more visitors; rapidly, the home devolves into a dark paranoid farce. So far, so Kafkaesque nightmare, but Aronofsky (whose big hit Black Swan wasn’t exactly your standard blockbuster) has stranger, more allegorical ambitions at play and by the second half the movie explodes into a fevered head trip that feels like watching all the worst parts of the bible on fast forward. It’s this second half that seems to be the breaking point for most audiences and frankly it is so out there that it’s hard to really blame anyone who decides to opt out: it really comes down to individual preference/tolerance for pure cinematic insanity. The creeping tension of the first half by contrast slyly nods to the paranoia and claustrophobia of Roman Polanski’s ”Apartment Trilogy” (in fact one of the film’s posters is a take-off of Rosemary’s Baby, a shout out that is far more subversive than it first appears) but this ends up proving more misdirection than outright homage.
Mother! is dense, beautifully shot, and formally audacious in its sheer overload. Audiences may not be kind to it, but history will; its pulpy exploration of eschatology and aesthetics shot, cut, and staged with a symphonic grandeur and clarity that will give cineastes something to chew over for years to come. Aronofsky described the film as a howl and that’s a fairly accurate summation of this melange of misanthropy theology and apocalypse. As unlikely as it may sound, this brain-bursting flick actually ends up delivering the expected shocks and goosebumps by obsessing its way into something resembling a horror film (at least at a DNA level). With the logic of a dream, it pieces together domestic fears and gothic elements: a locked room, a cold basement, notes of psychosexual unease, unwelcome guests, a missing child. Aronofsky confines almost the entire thing to the Lawrence character’s claustrophobic, disoriented perspective, her face often framed in chin-to-forehead close-ups, as she tries to orient herself in an increasingly senseless, distorted reality that eventually collapses into an overlong hallucination of the shittiness of humankind. Mother! is not everyone’s cup of tea (and that’s putting it mildly) but it is a true bugfuck crazy tour de force. Friday 13th this ain’t.