It’s not often that I feel comfortable enough with reviewing a movie, let’s leave it to critics and other connoisseurs of cinema. On the other hand, it’s even rarer for a movie to stuck in my head like a splinter, provoking a myriad of contrasting thoughts and interpretations during the screening and long after leaving the cinema. Yet, it happened just a few weeks ago. The American director Darren Aronofsky, acclaimed for such titles as “The Requiem for a Dream” and “Black Swan”, both of which are among my favourite movies of all time, managed to floor me with his recently released thriller (unjustly advertised as horror) “Mother!”.
Starring Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence in lead roles, the movie follows a seemingly idyllic life of a young couple whose relationship is put to the test due to the man’s going through a creative crisis. The loving wife does what it takes to comfort him, assuming all household duties and waiting agog for the inspiration to strike the once-famous poet. When the anticipated moment seems to have finally arrived, a stranger (Ed Harris) comes for a visit, disrupting the routine of their sequestered life. Much to the wife’s dismay, the husband invites him to stay in their home for as long as he wishes, leaving her no choice but to keep playing the role of a perfect housewife. Soon after, the doorbell rings again and strange(r) things begin to happen…
Disturbing. This is the word I’d choose if I were to describe “Mother!” using only one adjective. Just like in other well-known Aronofsky’s movies (well, the ones I saw), reality meets fantasy in almost every frame, blurring the line between what’s true and what’s just an illusion. Upon the arrival of the shadowy guests begins a series of eerie, sometimes scary and inexplicable events contributing to the growing sense of unease, building up the tension minute by minute. Marvelling at the director’s mastery, even if I’m no expert, I can admit that the movie stands as an example of perfect craftsmanship in every way. The camerawork, for as annoying as it seemed to me at the beginning, with very evocative, at times ‘sharp’ and very close shots, contributes to the prevailing air of disquietude and the acting is flawless. Bardem is credible as a frustrated artist suffering from a burnout and Jennifer Lawrence does her part surprisingly well and fits the title role of Mother, delivering her probably best performance to date. Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer prove to be in a class of their own. Add the soundtrack ideally matched to the actions it underscores and we have a truly respectable piece of work.
*** if you haven’t seen the movie, please be aware that this part of my review may contain spoilers! ***
“Technical” details aside, the meaning of the story, with all its religious undertones is what makes this movie so unique and controversial. Now, I need to admit that, having seen so many contrasting ratings prior to the screening, I was so afraid that I wouldn’t understand anything at all that it pushed me to do a thorough research on different viewers’ interpretations. Armed with several hints, I could rest assured that I was not going to leave the cinema feeling like an utter dumbass. Although I’m still dubious whether I would notice by myself all the more and less direct implications that Aronofsky starts introducing rather subtly, moving towards a real roller-coaster ride at the very end, where the ‘message’ becomes maybe a bit too obvious and pushy. Nonetheless, the entire plot, for as chaotic and at times not easily understandable (so I gather from various opinions) is in fact well-planned and executed. I agree with the interpretation of the story a an allegory to the biblical creation of the world, a modern retelling of The Book of Genesis focusing on the day the God created man in His own image. The God here is, obviously, played by Bardem and Lawrence’s character represents Mother Nature, who struggles protects her child, the house for which she has deep love and literally feels it breathing (as is shown in numerous sequences of Mother’s touching the walls to sense its heartbeat). The man who arrives all of a sudden is Adam, the result of God’s work, and then we have Eve, the first woman, who was made of a rib out of the side of Adam (therefore the bathroom scene showing the wound in the man’s back). She’s the trigger that leads to the destruction of the “forbidden fruit”, the precious crystal the writer has cherished and protected since the very beginning. We also have a reference to the story of Able killed his brother, Cain, the originator of evil, violence, or greed. The brothers are represented by “Adam” and “Eve’s” sons and the tragedy leaves an indelible mark on the floor, a bleeding wound that slowly envenoms the household and begins the series of subsequent catastrophic events. A brief moment of happiness sparked by the Goodwife’s unexpected pregnancy, followed by her husband’s sudden inspiration and overnight success is soon brutally ended yet again, with the arrival of cult followers of the Poet, whom they perceive as their Messiah. The expectant Mother, “now transformed” into Virgin Mary, who’s going to give birth to Jesus, struggles with more and more people inviding her privacy, destroying the house to which she’s been so devoted almost her entire life. Her voice is ignored and silenced, even by the husband, blinded by the fame and the “love” of his audience. The invasion of devout (psychic?) “believers” who want to be touched by the Man and pay homage to his Son results in a horrific cycle of carnage, the death of the baby final destruction of the House – my interpretation of the scenes alluding to World Wars, the Nazis and alike is that of a clear reference to the 10 plagues from the Old Testament.
All of the above-mentioned references are in fact difficult to miss, but I believe that the entire plot of the movie is, and should be, subject to individual interpretations. Just as many viewers, I tend to believe that Aronofsky wants to expose the evil nature of men, how we destroy Mother Nature and how deaf we are to the warning signals it gives us. The result? Climate change, natural disasters and gradual devastation of the planet. Needless to say that the final sequence represents in my eyes the nonsense of religion and bares the truth behind its being the root of of evil, (ab)using the human tendency to believe in any gibberish as long as it’s repeated enough times by a significant number of fellow man. The result? It goes without saying, I guess. What I also appreciate about the story lays on its more “basic”, emotional level, so to speak, as the movie touches upon the issue of how difficult it is to share life with an artist and how damaging the sacrifices one has to make are in such relationships. Per aspera ad astra, as they say. The creative process is always painful, but the greatest masterpieces are born of suffering. It feels like the director knows a lot about it, even if rumour has it that the script of “Mother!” has been written in 6 days only…Well, if it’s true, than I’m even more flabbergasted by his inventiveness!
Summing up, “Mother!” is a bold, brave and thought-provoking movie that has divided the audience into two groups of avid supporters and bitter haters. I stand among the former, since I appreciate works that apart from entertainment give something to chew over. Many of my friends, though, claim that the means of expression used by the director to present his vision are exaggerated, the story is without rhyme or reason giving the final result of tawdriness. Apparently, they’re not alone in this regard – “Mother!” has received equally scathing reviews from critics and was booed at its Venice Film Festival premiere…
How about you, my dear readers? Let me invite you to exchange opinions and general thoughts on the movie, I’ll truly appreciate your contribution and I’ll be glad to discuss various interpretations – the “comments” section is all yours!