Dir.: Darren Aronofsky
mother! is, perhaps, the film that Aronofsky has been building towards throughout his career. The director has dedicated the majority of his filmography to unnerving the viewer, with films like Requiem For a Dream and Black Swan earning him plenty of critical acclaim amidst his unique style of disturbing, visceral filmmaking. With a first draft written in a measley five days, and with Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem leading the cast, Aronofsky's passion project starts as a home invasion thriller, but quickly evolves into a much more involved and feverishly frantic cacophony of despair. The increasing amounts of socio-cultural debauchery on display has already generated extreme controversies, as Aronofsky holds nothing back from his taboo-breaking fever dream, and the marketing of the film only shows the first thirty minutes of the film, which are by and large a standard, if artsy home invasion thriller. By the end of the film, its true colors are revealed, and though it's an uneasy experience to watch, Aronofsky has crafted a bold, unrelenting condemnation of society and modern culture in mother!, and it's one of the must-see movies of the year for it.
To explain what the film is truly about (above the standard home invasion premise) would be diminish the impact that the film delivers unto the viewer. It's a film heavily with symbolism and metaphor, and one where many of the scenes and nearly all of the performances serve to represent specific people, places and things. This may sound overly vague, but to experience this film without the gradual unveiling of the metaphorical curtain would ruin the film. I will simply state that the message Aronofsky delivers - particularly in the film's final, portentous act - is effective, it not necessarily delivered with any degree of subtlety. The narrative progression is intentionally oppressive, in-your-face, and miserable, and it will bother many viewers beyond the breaking point, especially if those same viewers are just seeing the film singularly because of its cast or its marketing. mother! is by all accounts an arthouse film that somehow got unleashed into wide release, perhaps because of the names attached, and it's easily the least-Hollywood major release of 2017. Because of Aronofsky's ambitions and his rage-riddled writing here, it takes a certain kind of viewer to appreciate the film, but whether the viewer likes it or does not, it's a film that will be remembered for many years to come. This sheer audacity and boldness in composition provides mother! a merited viewing.
The acting in the film is exemplary, as Jennifer Lawrence provides the performance of her career thus far. I always found it kind of odd that of all of her performances before this one, she won the Best Actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook, a film that she was alright in but not transcendent in any way. After seeing how her character reacts to the events of this film, I believe she's a surefire bet for yet another nomination with this work. Javier Bardem is excellent as always, though his performance is not quite on Jennifer Lawrence's level here. It'd be difficult for him to top Anton Chigurh as a role for sure, but he does provide a crucial masculine foil to Lawrence's matriarchal woes, with his artist-flavored narcissism often providing excellent narrative rebuttals . Supporting performances are also pretty good, with a particularly incendiary Michelle Pfeiffer stealing a good bit of the scenes she is in with her character's consistent, irritating belligerence. All of the actors had some difficult, non-standard roles that required finesse and commitment to play, and they all delivered.
The directing is, as usual with Aronofsky, uncomfortable and menacing in the most gorgeous, perverse ways. Opting away from wide-angle shots to put the camera front and center with Jennifer Lawrence's character, the events of the film become increasingly disorienting and chaotic, but this lack of levity is essential and intentional for the message the film conveys. While the cinematography is not quite as visually gorgeous as films like Black Swan or Requiem For a Dream, it makes up for this lack of beauty with sheer physicality, as the camerawork often feels brutal and intense. This film also is one of the few to use shaky cam right, as I've often complained of directors using shaky cam when they don't understand to artificially create tension where none should exist. Here this tension is more than earned. There's not too much of a score to speak of except for in key dialogue scenes, but the physical sound design is well composed, and the scenes which do require sound effects, such as a few surreal scenes involving the house and one key, crucial scene of repulsion and violence sounds just as soul-crushing as it looks. From a technical standpoint, it feels unique, and this film more than many of his other works feels far more deeply rooted within the paranoid confines of the director's psyche.
If you've gotten this far into the review, you're probably wondering: since I've obviously thoroughly enjoyed mother!, would I recommend it? Normally in a case like this it'd be a resounding yes, but mother! has the issue of being marketed as something completely different than what it is. The film that it ends up being in my opinion is quite more significant than what it was marketed as, but many viewers will be turned off by its grim subject matter and admittedly unsubtle, often heavy-handed political and social declarations. Critics and audience members alike are already skewed in opinion on it for this very reason. If you don't necessarily want to see a standard psychological thriller and you don't mind seeing some grotesque, taboo-breaking images, then I think you may just find a good deal of merit in seeing mother! If you want to see something more akin to Lawrence's earlier work, I could not recommend this particular film as it's highly arthouse-driven and not at all like standard Hollywood fare. But that's exactly what I fell in love with in mother!: a major, driven studio-financed director laying his soul bare and expressing all of his anger and contempt with society in a sprawling, chaotic, bold canvas, with fantastic committed performances and excellent camerawork to back up the misery. It's a beautiful, messy misery, but one that definitely has to be seen to be believed.