Writer/Director Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan,” “The Wrestler”) made a career out of films that challenge his audience’s collective perception of reality. While some of his works (e.g. “Requiem for a Dream,” “Pi”) are more cerebral than others (“The Fountain,” “Noah”), Aronofsky has proven that he’s a highly gifted filmmaker who isn’t afraid to push the boundaries. His latest film, “Mother!,” is his veritable coup-de-grace, aimed at a film industry intent on maintaining a status quo regarding the confrontation of the average film-goer’s perceived values and beliefs. The fact that Paramount Pictures greenlit such an obviously metaphorical and downright bizarre film to open on more than 2,000 screens is a testament to the shifting landscape of cinema, even if swarms of angry theater patrons aren’t quite ready to accept it.
The story follows an unnamed author (Oscar-winner Javier Bardem) with a terrible case of writer’s block, and his wife (Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence), who spends her days redecorating their two-story home. Not much is mentioned of their surroundings, but we get the feeling that this estate is secluded from the outside world. The impression is solidified by the arrival of a man (Ed Harris) who claims to just be “passing through” and is having trouble procuring a place to stay. The gracious host invites him to spend the night, which opens the door for the visitor’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) to arrive the next day, even though the man neglected to mention her existence in an all-night conversation with Bardem’s character.
Their presence creates a tremendous challenge to Jennifer Lawrence’s character, but not to the writer, who seems happy to have the company. More family members show up, and this is just the first half of the film. During the film’s second half, a host of other people arrive, with more ensuing complications. By the last 30 minutes of the film, the narrative plunges into a psychotic nightmare that starts off with a legion of ravenous fans of the author’s newly published work (the houseguests were his inspiration) and climaxes in a figurative descent into hell that must be seen to be believed.
Aronofsky focuses his lens on Lawrence’s face for nearly two-thirds of the film’s running time. This is a particularly smart technique, especially since he is counting on the actress to convey her mounting feelings of uneasiness, sickness and horror. Obviously, her character must be our protagonist. In a very rare occurrence, everyone else in the film should be considered an antagonist, as no one else is sympathetic to her concerns, particularly her own husband.
By the time of its release, “Mother!” had established itself as the most controversial film of the year, perhaps of the century. It has been described as an ecological parable, biblical allegory, psychological horror, indictment on Christianity, etc. While each description is somewhat accurate (whether or not they reflect the director’s intention), this film is ripe for individual interpretation. It will likely be discussed among critics and film students long after the box-office horror smash “IT,” which pummeled “Mother!” at its weekend debut.
Heavily darkened tones were used throughout, with an absolute lack of vibrancy in its color scheme. Even when Lawrence’s character splashes two shades of paint on the wall, the hues are so flat, it’s almost as if we were watching a re-emergence of sepia tone. It also seems as if the film is grainy on purpose, perhaps to indicate a throwback to the era of grindhouses. After all, if drive-ins and art houses were capable of producing a love child, Aronofsky’s “Mother!” would certainly be the resulting co-production.