Darren Aronofsky is an artist who painstakingly cannot stay within the box. His newest endeavor, the psychological/horror mother!, fits the bill perfectly - only unlike his previous works, this one lacks a concise narrative to give it the backbone needed to warrant the buzz and attention it has gotten on heels of its star-studded cast.
mother!, in all its melodramatic glory, is heavily lacking in language so describing its exact premise is tough, a bit like explaining last night’s epic nightmare. But the gist is that a newlywed couple lives alone in an isolated house in what can only be described as the middle of nowhere.
She (Jennifer Lawrence) is consuming herself in the restoration of the house after almost losing it in a fire, taking great pride in her work as she attempts to breathe new life into the home.
He (Javier Bardem) is a world renowned poet who is quite aloof, suffering from a strong case of writer’s block as he struggles to be inspired.
Together they share an undeniable tension, though the cause of the strain is not immediately (or really ever) known. But wedged within her daily activities a wealth of weird events continuously occur: the scary basement, the strong heartbeat of the house, the blood ridden floorboards, the unusual silence - do not worry, it is all there.
When a random knock occurs at the door, both homeowners are taken aback by the sudden disruption. That intrusion only personifies when the guest (Ed Harris), mistaking the home for a bed and breakfast, accepts an invitation by Bardem’s Him to stay the night. It is at this moment that things begin to progress exponentially as we quickly side with Lawrence’s “fuck no” reaction.
This is only the beginning as a wealth of unusual gestures are made throughout the night, prompting us to question the sanity of our male protagonist. As “mother” attempts to continue to make sense of the situation, we can’t help but twist and turn in our seat. Though nothing has actually happened, an unusual sense of hysteria begins to settle in, peaking our interest as another knock occurs as the door.
Lawrence’s character works hard to prance around and try to make sense of the entire situation, and who can blame her? Her husband is proving to be mentally insane and entirely unaware of his wife; though she wants nothing more than to return to the quiet life they had known. She works hard to preserve his creative space, living out her domestic duties as sacrificial lamb, laboring to make her husband’s actions seem ordinary as more guests continue to arrive.
As the film progresses it is hard to not observe that Lawrence is in every scene. It is her perspective we get as she navigates the sudden change in events. The constant closeups hide what is going on around her, offering up a stylistic approach that generates a feeling of claustrophobia. That being said, I can’t say that the “creative decision” adds much to the narrative - if we are calling it that. It should be noted that in several occasions the trailing seems very intrusive, a possible reveal of Aronofsky’s own obsession with his star - they are currently in a romantic relationship.
The truly crazy shit doesn’t come into play until the last forty five minutes. From there, only Aronofsky himself knows exactly what it all means. A montage of scenes are artistically and visually impressive; however, they leave a large number of questions that will likely never be answered. The film’s overall message appears to be left in the eye of the beholder. Personally, I don’t know where exactly to start. Maybe that’s the point…I’m still not entirely sure.
*This review was originally featured as part of our 2017 Toronto International Film Festival coverage