“Mother!”, written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, is perhaps the most controversial film of the year. It begins with an arresting scene of a burning woman’s face and only gets stranger and more confusing from there on out.
The couple live in an elaborate, octagonal country house. There is no road to the door, only a grassy meadow, and the house is more than once referred to as a “paradise.” The wife, played by Jennifer Lawrence, spends her days fixing up the house, indulging in both cooking and carpentry. Her husband, played by Javier Bardem, is a poet
who is currently in the midst of writer’s block.
This domestic scene shifts as an ailing doctor (Ed Harris) arrives at the house and asks to stay. The poet joyously agrees, which upsets his wife because he didn’t ask her first. It is a small problem that quickly escalates,
as scores of other visitors enter the house throughout the rest of the film, especially in the third act. Neither the poet nor his wife know exactly who all the visitors are, but they seem to be fans of the poet’s work. As the domestic tone turns into horror in the film’s third act, the film begins to lend itself even more heavily toward allegory. Aronofsky’s film is so caught up in itself that it is difficult to even explain what it is truly about without giving away the entire plot.
None of the characters are named on screen, and none of them receive significant character development. Therefore, it is more apt to discuss what they represent rather than who they are. The young wife embodies all of womankind, wandering her house barefoot and cleaning up her visitors’ messes. It is a tremendous burden to put on Lawrence’s shoulders, and she carries it off beautifully. The doctor and his wife (Michelle Pfieffer) have two sons, and there is a Cain and Abel subplot that is perhaps meant as foreshadowing. Ultimately, the film ends in a grisly scene that echoes the Eucharist.
Lawrence plays the young wife as confused and worried over why she can’t be enough for her husband, who at one point claims that he is “suffocating” in their house without the stories of their visitors. As the film progresses and the plot gets more erratic, her more dynamic acting skills have a chance to shine, particularly in the third act. Bardem, as the poet, is perpetually dissatisfied with his quiet life in the country. Most of the time, he plays Lawrence’s anchor, quietly helping her through her confusion. Other times, he simply disappears into the arms of his adoring fans. This, of course, has deadly consequences. Harris and Pfeiffer play their characters with a hint of lightness and humor that are not replaced (sadly) when they leave.
Like the biblical material Aronofsky draws from, his film is cyclical. The end of the film, and the beginning of a new cycle, left me with a sense of unease. Ultimately, that’s the goal of this film: to leave you uncomfortable. “Mother!” features several shots that are never truly explained (heart in the toilet, anyone?) and are thus left to the imagination. In truth, the great meaning of the film is left to interpretation and allegory that you can accept or set aside. That, in my opinion, is what makes a film like this so frustrating and so entertaining at the same time. Sure, we know the events that happened, but we could argue for the next 40 years over what it means. Is is religious allegory? Is it ecological allegory? Is it about the artist and the long-suffering muse? Something else completely? Aronofsky isn’t telling, but I’ll be here all week if you want to discuss the meaning of the controversial film that is “Mother!”.