Darren Aronofsky’s new film, mother!, made its theater debut this past Friday. The film makes an abundance of questionable decisions, including the odd choice of punctuating the title with an exclamation point and using a lowercase “m.”
The exclamation point is supposed to get attention. It sticks out, calls out to the viewer. It signifies that Aronofsky has something to say.
And, boy, does he.
mother! is a potpourri of metaphors that are about as subtle as a chainsaw. The movie stars Jennifer Lawrence (the titular lowercase mother) and Javier Bardem (as Him, an obvious hint at who he plays in this biblical allegory). Aronofsky tells the story of a famous poet and his wife who take an unexpected guest (Man, played by Ed Harris) into their home. After a night of throwing up and bleeding from his ribs, Harris’s wife (Woman, played marvelously by the scene-stealing Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up. This is all to mother’s chagrin. Lawrence’s character is renovating this house, which was damaged in a fire. Pfeiffer is fearless as she inspects everything inside the building, whether physical or psychological. Her two sons (Brian Gleeson and Domhnall Gleeson) eventually show up to re-enact the tale of Cain and Abel. Eventually, more and more unsolicited people show up.
The first half of the film is perfectly fine. The impeccable, anxiety-inducing sound design brings an eeriness to the claustrophobic situation. Hearing every sound in the house engrosses the audience to feel as if they are also an uninvited guest in the house, alongside Bardem and Lawrence.
But I don’t ever want watch Lawrence’s character again. She is Stepford wife who spends her days cleaning for her husband. She doesn’t have much to do. However, halfway through the movie, she becomes a scream queen with the knife skills of an assassin. This character gave me a literal headache. Over half of the movie was spent on a close-up of Lawrence. She shouldn’t have been the face of the film.
The last person who should be starring in a Darren Aronofsky movie is someone dating Aronofsky. His 2006 movie, The Fountain, starred his then-fiancé Rachel Weis. The movie was a failure. Perhaps it’s fitting that Aronofsky’s best movie is Black Swan — a film that’s basically about how Natalie Portman would rather die than have sex with him. Conversely, it makes sense why mother! is one of his worst: it stars Lawrence, his girlfriend.
One positive aspect that Lawrence adds to this movie is the personal layer of commentary Aronofsky is making about himself. One of the many metaphors in the movie is how artists exploit their muses. Aronofsky’s work with Lawrence makes this allegory more profound.
Aronofsky was brave to create this film. Not just because of the internal demons he released by having Bardem play a gaslighting narcissist who could be interpreted as being Aronofsky himself, but because of how chaotic and wild it is. A lot happens in the film and it all has a purpose: a broken sink represents the great flood, a frog is a portent of the plague and a bloody, decaying hole in the floor signifies original sin.
It’s too much to take in though. Childbirth scenes are always disturbing, but they are even worse when the child crowd-surfs to its death. The movie becomes destructive and unpleasant to watch near the end. It’s not enjoyable to watch Lawrence get thrown down, kicked, and punched.
I understand the metaphor that no one respects mother nature, but Aronofsky could have said this without attacking the audience.
We get it, Darren, you have something to say. But you don’t have to yell it.
Contact CU Independent Arts Writer Joseph Mason at Joseph.Mason@Colorado.edu.