Over the years, few director-writers have captured the bizarre in the same way that Darren Aronofsky has. From “Requiem for a Dream” to “Black Swan,” Aronofsky has examined the surreal and psychological in a way that few others have attempted. That hasn’t changed with his latest, “Mother!”
Taking ambition to a new level, Aronofsky creates a world that must be experienced in order to believe. And though it is not perfect, it does a lot quite well.
“Mother!” tells the story of Him (Javier Bardem), a writer struggling with writer’s block, and his wife, Mother (Jennifer Lawrence). Mother meticulously recreates the childhood home of Him from its charred remains. Their work becomes interrupted by an unexpected guest (Ed Harris), who is later joined by his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer). Amid uncertainty, the house becomes chaotic and events begin to spin out of control.
Not much can be said of “Mother!” without unraveling the allegorical approach Aronofsky takes. What can be said is the film emits a stressful aura that drags its audience along whether they want to go or not. At times, the question should be asked if Lawrence’s character and the audience are one in the same. Just as she has little to no idea of what is happening and why it is happening, the audience is right there with her. There is no indication of an escape.
Lawrence’s choice to take this role is very much the antithesis of many others she has built her career upon. Whereas she tends to play the powerful woman who will not be defeated, her portrayal of Mother is quite the opposite. She spends much of the film powerlessly fighting to hold onto some semblance of control. Lawrence does well, even as the character lacks incredible depth.
Bardem’s counterrole of Him seems to make the character of Mother even more shallow. Although, solid in its own right, nothing that Him does evokes being too powerful to swallow his often-submissive wife. In the end, the characters play as lackluster and merely pawns in a predetermined concept, rather than well-operated cogs in the greater mechanics of the story.
What Aronofsky should be applauded for is the ambition of pulling off such a concept. Yes, it is very ambitious, and in many ways does exactly what it set out to do, maybe to its detriment. At times, it feels like Aronofsky wants to be sure that his audience understands what he is trying to do, so he forces the actions.
Sometimes it appears that Aronofsky wants his film to be very much grounded in reality, and at times, he conveniently forgets this. Ultimately, this wishy-washy stance breaks the integrity of the film. Simply, he can’t have it both ways, and he tries.
For the fan of Aronofsky, “Mother!” is a must-see affair. For those who haven’t enjoyed his other work, “Mother!” isn’t likely to change your opinion on him. Certainly not his best, but far from his worst, Aronofsky capitalizes on the intrigue factor built on the unknown. His cast of skilled actors piece together characters that work, but do little to challenge their acting abilities.
With that said, it is worth seeing “Mother!” if only to have an extremely rich conversation piece that is easy to revisit for the days following. Aronofsky continues to challenge the definition of how a film operates and does it in his own style without any reservations.