Oh My Mother!
Contentious Psychological Thriller "mother!" Builds to Disturbing Crescendo
If there's one thing director Darren Aronofsky ("The Wrestler," "Black Swan") can't do, it's make us feel comfortable. Whether by hallucinating ballerina or drug-induced utopias, his job is not to welcome us into his home; rather, it's to ensure restlessness during our stay. Aronofsky's psychological think piece and biblical thriller, "mother!" is no exception.
Every sense is pushed to its proverbial limits in "mother!" with visceral sounds that are grating to the ears and purposely too loud. Nondescript actions such as running the faucet, slicing meats, or moving a chair become painfully present. In this way, the house evolves into its own character, from alluring and tranquil beginnings to desecrated ends. The film is undeniably well-captured, with cinematographer Matthew Libatique relying on tight lines of sight to keep the audience on edge; we want more but are constrained to extreme close-ups and the occasional pan out. This results in an added sense of tension not unlike hearing a bump in the night without being able to see it. Further, however simple the dialogue may be (many scenes are built off of "A to B" snippets like you'd find in an actor's workshop), it's necessary. Aronofsky doesn't waste precious time with speeches that could ruin the film's symbolism. In fact, while the story appears to unravel into divine disaster, its annihilation is particularly precise and disciplined. He lets "mother!" begin as a psychological thriller, complete with a house in the middle of nowhere and two uninvited houseguests, but end as a reflection of religious and natural detonation (try watching it backwards).
Javier Bardem ("No Country for Old Men," "Skyfall") whose name only appears in the credits as Him, is a poet experiencing writer's block in His expansive and newly renovated home, joined by Mother, played by a delightfully and unusually quiet Jennifer Lawrence ("Silver Linings Playbook," "American Hustle"). Lawrence has a penchant for painting walls and seeing heartbeats in inanimate objects, which is slightly creepy on its own, but paired with the too-beige color palette and suspicious normality of it all and voilà: "Twilight Zone." It's quiet. Too quiet. Of course, everything is coming up roses until an uninvited house guest, Ed Harris' ("Westworld," "A Beautiful Mind") Man arrives, later joined by his "better half"– you guessed it, Woman (the spunky and bawdy Michelle Pfieffer of "Scarface" and "Hairspray"). Harris and Pfieffer are electric and bizarre; if Aronofsky ever tires of thought-provoking art-house indies, he really should consider a prime-time sitcom. Following Man and Woman are their two sons, aptly named Oldest Son (Domhnall Gleeson, "Ex Machina") and Younger Brother (Brian Gleeson) ... one thing leads to another and what starts off as an eerie Brady Bunch becomes an episode out of "American Horror Story"'s first season Murder House, Bible Version. It only goes downhill from here, with the arrival of more guests and subsequent upheavals to the lush home Mother has worked so hard to complete.
The last fifteen minutes of "mother!" really spell out its underlying metaphor, and if you're like me, prepare for a sore jaw after dropping it for so long. Whether you'll jump on the Mother Mary bandwagon, decide to agree with the director's idea of "mother!" being a "Welcome to my Crib: Mother Nature" episode, or land on something else entirely, the jarring and often grotesque metaphors work regardless. They say that God should be feared, and even if Bardem isn't God, he definitely bestows a sense of fear across the screen. There's a particularly chilling sequence between himself (or should i say Himself?) and Lawrence's Mother where three words — 'I'm his Father.' — send chills down the spine. Javier Bardem plays with his character's power and stance in a manner vague enough to keep his viewers confused, but specific enough for us to make the connection after the fact. It's a delicate line, but Bardem's presence as the poet who "only wants your love" is strengthened by Lawrence, who gives him the space he needs to prove his point. Jennifer glows in this role, shedding the quirky mannerisms and loud personalities found in previous blockbusters to truly embody Mother. Without her hushed serenity turned anxiety-ridden anguish, "mother!" would not connect.
By the end of this film, you'll feel. It might not be positive, in fact, it could be downright hatred, but what Aronofsky gives us is the inability to leave unaffected. For a spiritual environmentalist documentary disguised as a psychological haunted house thriller, "mother!" leaves its audience with the sensation of ants crawling all over your body: harmless, but nonetheless stomach-churning and rattled.
"MOTHER!" Rated: R
Directed, Written, & Produced by DARREN ARONOFSKY
Starring JENNIFER LAWRENCE, JAVIER BARDEM, ED HARRIS, MICHELLE PFEIFFER
Distributed by PARAMOUNT PICTURES
"mother!" released September 15 and is in theaters everywhere now.
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