Almost every time I come out of a Darren Aronofsky movie, it’s like my brain just got fucked.
Towards the home stretch I was writhing in my seat, the bombardment of images so intense ad discomforting. Until now, a day after the media screening, there are many things about Mother! that make no sense to me, but their overall impact is undeniable. Scenes of Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and Him (Javier Bardem) linger in my head like suspicious portents or a half-remembered dream that verged on nightmare.
Did you like the sci-fi meets psychedelia of Noah? How about the mad pressure cooker meets sexy physicality of Black Swan? And how about the utter suicide ballad that was Requiem for a Dream? Mother! has strains of all those, except now we’re drinking nearer the source. The waters here are purer. The potion is more heady.
There are no easy answers. What’s guaranteed here are shock and awe, frustration and bafflement, emotiveness and obfuscation.
It seems, sometimes, like a tesseract unfolding. And no surprise since director Darren Aronofsky has stated that the script for this one was produced after five feverish days at his keyboard, alone in an empty house. Within a year, production had its own momentum and cameras were rolling on the start of filming on this surreal trip.
The facts are: Mother and Him live a seemingly idyllic existence in a pastoral, almost secluded house. Said house was once heavily damaged and nearly burnt, and its reconstruction was spearheaded and almost single-handedly rebuilt by the loving hands of Mother. Him, a poet, is having trouble writing and Mother feels this bleeding into their relationship as a casual lack of attention.
Still, the beautiful house Mother rebuilt is a testament to how much she loves Him and she wants to make this a perfect environment. Mother has puts her entire heart into it, a real passion project so the house IS her.
As such, this is a true acting vehicle for Lawrence, with the story told exclusively from her POV—and with a running time of two hours (66 minutes of it is just close-ups of Lawrence’s Mother) you best get used to Katniss Everdeen’s face covering almost the whole screen and her constant padding around in her pajamas for the rest of the viewing. Bardem makes the most of what should be a caricature performance, a steady and almost predictable bass thrum to the jazz improv of J Law. He is masculine and melancholic, taciturn and expectant of adoration.
I wonder who inspired Mother as a character? One can only suspect such a detailed behavioral study as biographical, or auto. But I digress. What I do want to emphasize is that such precise characterization, right down to the barefoot Mother, is rarely produced from an imagined place.
Then the mysterious Man (Ed Harris) and his wife, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), arrive at their doorstep to stay with them, unannounced and unasked for guests. Him and Mother‘s relationship is tested when the visitors disrupt their tranquil life. In their wake, more and more guests arrive. It's all downhill from there.
You can probably tell from just the character names that this one is working on the level of allegory. It’s certainly got the taste of fable on it with metaphors that require melodrama as vessels, because they’re the only jump off points familiar enough to hold on to as we get launched into the stratosphere.
That melodrama is likely what will turn people off midway through. I wouldn’t be surprised if some walk out, shaking their heads, mumbling that Aronofsky’s gone too far with this unwatchable art school crap. At least Black Swan had that hot girl-on-girl action to tide us over. Those parts can be off putting and they’re sometimes downright comedic—kind of like viewing porn in grainy cut up or extreme close-up or hearing a distant remix song of a cover version. There is something vaguely, nigglingly familiar and full of passion about it, yet you can't exactly tell what’s going on, or who’s doing what to whom and where exactly all this is.
It does stand closer to The Fountain in structure but edges more to the tone of The Wrestler in its dramatic weight. When more and more guests arrive, Mother is forced to revisit everything she knows about love, devotion and sacrifice. So Mother! may be ostensibly about love and the pitfalls of any relationship, but its agenda is far reaching and its grasp is giant.
"Wow, you really do love him, God help you!" exclaims Pfeiffer’s Woman to Mother at one point, and it feels like a statement pregnant with foreshadowing.
I liked the ambition and rambling nature of it that starts out as a calm stream and ends as a raging tsunami. See, good films move us to a gut reaction, but great films draw us into their own world and from their visual myths teach us their own language. Just like something as dense as Gravity’s Rainbow or Dhalgren teach us, as we turn the pages, to read their own codified signs and signifiers.
What are the notes that Mother! touches on? The variety and predictability of human depravity. The limits of love. How you can give your heart and still your heart won't be enough—and there’s a real heart in there making its appearance somewhere, like in the posters. Everybody can certainly relate to what Mother goes through at the start.
That people may or may not enjoy this movie may be too strong a word to express any kind of endorsement. It is, hands down, certainly a guaranteed experience that gives zero quarter.
This is relentlessly in-your-face wasak from an adept, uncompromising practitioner of the filmic arts. Aronofsky is one of the last true fabulists of cinema, his surrealism bears old school sleight-of-hand tricks that escalate and escalate and escalate to a climax of beautiful brutality.
PSA: A pregnant friend asked me if she thinks she can watch this movie. To which I say to other pregnant Pinoy women: by all means do watch it, but it likely won’t be good for the baby. (Edit: So maybe nobody in their third trimester watch it.) #FHMcares
Mother! is now showing and is rated R-16 WITHOUT CUTS.
All photos courtesy of Paramount Pictures.