***Edit: After rewatching the film following its release on digital platforms, I have decided to adjust the score down. It was previously at a 9/10.
Within the last few days, the internet has exploded with news regarding how much audiences hate Darren Aronofsky’s newest film, “mother!” The consensus seems to be that it is excessive, self-indulgent, and shallow. While I cannot exactly blame anybody for walking out of this film confused, upset, or unsatisfied, I have to respectfully disagree. The film is divisive for a reason, and it is far from perfect. However, it is also one of the most daring and layered films I’ve seen since Aronofsky’s last outing, “Black Swan.”
I will do my best to avoid spoilers because one of the greatest joys of this film is unraveling the story for yourself. The entirety of that story takes place within a house and is entirely from the perspective of Jennifer Lawrence’s unnamed character (credited as “the mother”). The camera hugs her tightly and follows her closely as she (and thus we) weave around the interior of her home. Lawrence lives in this place with Javier Bardem’s also unnamed character (credited as “Him”), and it is her job to rebuild and remodel the home while he attempts to write a new poem. Both actors are fully committed to their roles, and turn in predictably excellent performances. The supporting cast is also excellent, acting suitably shady and often outright weird.
If you had seen any of the trailers, you might expect the story to be along the lines of “oh no! There are creepy people in my house and I can’t trust my husband! So spooky!!!” This is absolutely nothing like what actually occurs in the film, which is almost certainly one of the reasons audiences disliked the film so vehemently. It was marketed as a horror movie of sorts, but it is far more of an art film than anything. It is entirely possible that the marketing team was trying to trick mainstream audiences into seeing an art film by casting a big-name actress and making it look like an early-fall horror movie, but judging by the film’s dismal performance at the box office that plan seems to have backfired.
This is an excessively difficult film to review without giving too much away, and having an understanding of the film’s true plot and significance would ruin what for me was among the most satisfying movie-going experiences I’ve had in years. Suffice it to say, everything you see is symbolic of something else. The characters are not people, but metaphors. The house is not just a house. The guests are not just guests. Even some of the more obvious symbolism towards the end of the film is not directly symbolic of what it seems to be, but rather of something deeper. “mother!” is a complex, intelligent, and occasionally unwieldy exploration of the relationship between creation and destruction in all of its many forms.
This is not to say that the film is perfect, it has a great many flaws. The most notable of these are the special effects, which are subpar at best, and completely unnecessary. The dialogue occasionally sounds overwritten, however, this occurred infrequently enough that it did not detract from the overall experience. Additionally, the first act is very slow paced and repetitive. It serves a purpose, but it may lose a great many people’s interest right out of the gate. All of these issues fell by the wayside once the film explodes into its third act, however. Again, I will avoid spoiling anything, but the last thirty minutes were incredibly vivid, disturbing, and completely unpredictable. It is actually difficult to imagine that a single frame from the end of the film could take place in the same movie as any frame from the first half. It is not often that a movie elicits a genuine reaction from me, but I spent a good chunk of the third act with my mouth hanging open like an idiot and my hands on my head.
“mother!” is likely to be the most divisive film of the year, and I completely understand many of the complaints leveled at it. However, I found it to be a genuinely exceptional film and one that I intend to revisit for further analysis. I do have one regret, though. I am genuinely upset that as of now, I have spent exactly as much money on “mother!” as I did on “The Emoji Movie.” There is something deeply wrong with that.