Confusing And Surreal, 'mother!' Is A Beautiful Mess Of A Movie

By James Jay Edwards
Released: September 15, 2017
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A couple's relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.

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Film Review
The promotional campaign for mother!, the newest film from Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream), has been genius. It shows just enough to pique interest without giving audiences any idea of what the movie is about. And after seeing it, many viewers still won't have any idea what the movie is about.

mother!, photo courtesy Paramount Pictures 2017, All Rights Reserved.

Mother! stars Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games, American Hustle) as a young woman who is restoring a huge house in the country while her poet husband (Javier Bardem from No Country for Old Men) labors to finish his next collection. One evening, a man (Ed Harris from Phantom) shows up thinking that the sprawling mansion is a bed and breakfast. The poet husband lets him stay, and soon enough, his wife (What Lies Beneath's Michelle Pfeiffer) and two adult sons (real-life brothers Brian Gleeson from Assassin's Creed and Domhnall Gleeson from Ex Machina) join him. This starts a chain of surreal experiences that spiral out of control for the poor young woman.

That's as much of a synopsis as one should have going into mother! Not in order to avoid spoilers, but because much of the movie makes little sense and if a full synopsis is to be attempted, eventually it will cover the entire narrative without really giving anything away. The movie is like one big fever dream of all setup and very little payoff. It's a Roman Polanski-influenced nightmare, starting off like Repulsion before venturing squarely into Rosemary's Baby territory. It's gripping, but not really suspenseful. It keeps the attention, yet doesn't ever inspire the audience to care much about what's happening.

mother!, photo courtesy Paramount Pictures 2017, All Rights Reserved.

The movie starts off engagingly enough, but as mother! goes on, it just keeps getting weirder and weirder, to the point where the audience actually starts to root for Aronofsky to reel it in and satisfyingly stick the landing, hoping the entire time that the movie is, in fact, actually going somewhere. And it does go somewhere. It's just not a very fulfilling somewhere. The conclusion is an attempt at being clever that ends up just feeling trite and predictable, leaving the audience feeling as if it's been had.

The film is not a complete waste, though. What mother! does best is force the audience to form a strong connection with Jennifer Lawrence's character, because she goes through the movie just as confused as they do. The viewer and J-Law are along for the ride together, the audience sympathizing with the poor woman and agonizing over her every emotional plea for her husband to tell her what is going on. Because the audience wants to know, too. If that's by design, Aronofsky is brilliant, because it works almost too well. It had to be a happy accident, though, right?

mother!, photo courtesy Paramount Pictures 2017, All Rights Reserved.

From a filmmaking standpoint, mother! is great. Aronofsky knows how to make a beautiful movie. But this time, he seems to have let his artistic aspirations override his storytelling sensibilities. So, what he's left with is an exquisite film that has no reason to exist. However, it is the kind of movie that seems as if it might have more to offer upon repeat viewings. So, I reserve the right to alter this review if (and when) I sit through mother! again. But for now, I'll call it a beautiful mess.
The cinematography in mother! is easily the strongest aspect of the film. Shot by Darren Aronofsky's main man Matthew Libatique (who, in addition to most of Aronofsky's films, has shot everything from Straight Outta Compton to Money Monster), mother! features a great mix of tight close-ups and sweeping long shots. Here's the deal, though; nothing is done halfway. Close-ups are tight and claustrophobic, cutting off actor's faces in order to pull in even closer. Long shots are wide and spacious, practically losing the subject in the frame. The long shots are not necessarily external, either; plenty are from inside the house, too, looking down from a staircase or out from the head of a table. Most of the camera work seems to be handheld or done with a Steadicam as well, so there's fluid motion in just about every shot. And it's all purposeful, adding to the general disorientation and confusion that Jennifer Lawrence's character feels throughout the entire movie. For as perplexing of a movie as mother! is, Libatique and Aronofsky have made a gorgeous looking film.

mother!, photo courtesy Paramount Pictures 2017, All Rights Reserved.
The sound design in mother!, done by Craig Henighan (Real Steel, Deadpool) and Paula Fairfield ("Game of Thrones"), is fascinating. There's very little music in the film, the soundtrack instead opting to present the sounds of the house mixed with the aural interpretations that manifest in Jennifer Lawrence's character's head (none of the characters are ever referred to by name, only labelled in the credits with titles like "Him," "Woman," and "Oldest Son"). The result is a pseudo-haunted house movie, leaving the audience to wonder if the mansion is alive, or if everything is occurring in J-Law's mind. At times, the events are confusing and cacophonous, and the sound reflects that, too, yet for all that may be happening onscreen, Henighan and Fairfield manage to use restraint, mixing the audio so that sensory overload is avoided. There's enough to think about in mother! without being bombarded with audio blasts, and the sound design of the film understands that.

mother!, photo courtesy Paramount Pictures 2017, All Rights Reserved.

Drama, Horror, Mystery
Release Date
September 15, 2017
MPAA Rating
Production Designer
Casting Director