Title: Mother! (2017)
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Stars (primary actors): Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer
Bias: 50% of what drew me to this film was the trailer, while the other 50% was the exclamation point in the title. The former set me up for an entirely different film.
Grade: D+ (immediately after leaving the theater); C+/B- (five hours later).
In A Nutshell: The characters in the film are never referred to by name, and the names used on IMDb could be considered spoilers, so for the sake of clarity I’ll refer to them by the actors’ names.
Lawrence and Bardem play a couple living in pleasant isolation while Bardem struggles through writer’s block. Their solitude is interrupted by a series of unexpected arrivals, beginning with Harris and Pfeiffer as a married couple who bring their family drama and conflict with them.
The Critique: It’s rare that I’ll criticize a film for being ambitious or unpredictable, and Mother! is unquestionably both of those things. The problem comes from a filmmaker as talented as Aronofsky deliberately trying to make his film as unpleasantly unwatchable as this movie becomes. I say “deliberately” because it works for the story he’s telling and the theme he’s exploring. The problem comes from a film that is about too much and too many things, and the ultimate revelation of what those things are comes far too late in the movie. This is not excess for the sake of excess, but it’s excess that so fundamentally works against the viewer that it’s viscerally repellant.
What I found disappointing about the turn the movie takes is that, up until that point, it’s an interesting and insightful film about womanhood that is defined by and under constant pressure from both patriarchy and the male gaze. Her character suffers constant dismissal, sexualization, and aggression from nearly every other character in the film. As he often did in Black Swan (a film I liked quite a bit), Aronofsky fixes the camera unwaveringly on his lead, as she is either seen or seeing in every frame. Doing so here also increases the tension throughout, as the audience never knows more than Lawrence does, and often knows less.
Shout-out: The ambition. While that ambition is at the root of so much of what doesn’t work in Mother!, I think the central idea that Aronofsky is exploring, and even the way he’s trying to explore it, is fascinating. Along with that, both Lawrence and Bardem have to play the story we’re seeing and the story that’s ultimately revealed, and they do so exceptionally well.
To Go, to Rent, or to Netflix: Netflix is fine. I could never recommend spending money on a movie that will likely be a thoroughly unpleasant experience (even if you ultimately like the film).