Movie Review: Mother!
Director: Darren Aronofsky
by Jason Koenigsberg
This is the best that they could do? All the talent involved on and off screen with Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and writer/director Darren Aronofsky could not put together anything but a poor man’s updated version of Rosemary’s Baby (1968)? This is the filmmaker who made Requiem for a Dream (2000), The Wrestler (2008) and Black Swan (2010). All of which are scarier, more disturbing, and have more emotionally engaging elements than anything in Mother! Here Aronofsky is just being weird for the sake of being weird. Shame on everyone involved.
This is a supreme waste of talent. Jennifer Lawrence is better than this script but most likely she entrusted herself to the direction of Darren Aronofsky. He guided Natalie Portman to a Best Actress Academy Award for Black Swan. This is no Black Swan. This is a wretched film that tries to be a dark and artsy metaphor on how fame can interfere and destroy families and that life is a vicious cycle. Unfortunately, most of Mother! is such an unpleasant experience you just want it to get to the point and be over with. Aronofsky succeeds in making this movie an uncomfortable experience, however nothing here is scary, just gross, weird and trying too hard to be disturbing.
The opening shot is a woman on fire surrounded by bright orange flames. The camera focuses on her face, then on her eyes. This image will of course appear again much later in the film and with more meaning to it. For most of the next two hours the audience is treated to tracking shots following Jennifer Lawrence around a large, dilapidated, labyrinthine house. The house itself is not visually interesting or creepily gothic. Even if it were, the audience would not really notice because the director fell in love with close ups of Jennifer Lawrence’s face front and center as she walks around the house. She spends most of the film looking lost, sad and confused in her own house while doing her best Mia Farrow impersonation from Rosemary’s Baby.
Right away when the audience is introduced to Javier Bardem’s character as her husband we know there is something up his sleeve and he is not all he appears to be. Even before Ed Harris and everyone else starts to show up we know this man cannot be trusted. That is one of the biggest flaws with Mother! The trouble starts right from the beginning. There is no gradual buildup or rising tension. Immediately there is something wrong and we know Jennifer Lawrence is in for trouble so there is no suspense. By the end it all makes sense (sort of) but the way the plot unfolds in Mother! does not make for a compelling or scary narrative. Also, another pretentious touch in Mother! none of the characters have names. Check the imdb page to see what each actor is credited as. This films pomposity is obnoxious.
Even before the films claustrophobic climax many of the scenes were oddly uneasy to watch because of how rude all of the other characters were to Jennifer Lawrence. The usually reliable Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer show up and just start awkward conversations and are so blatantly mean it’s staggering how much Jennifer Lawrence’s character puts up with before she finally screams and lashes out. That only comes once so many other strangers show up at her and Javier Bardem’s house and just make themselves at home. Everyone is just plain rude to Jennifer Lawrence for no reason, as if she is on a different planet where manners do not exist.
Mother! has a few strength’s worth noting. Some of the horrific images on screen are darkly beautiful and the director uses some exquisite use of symmetrical shapes. That makes it worthy of it’s single star. Mother! takes a lot from other, better films such as the aforementioned Rosemary’s Baby, as well as The Shining (1980) and a great underrated Korean film directed by Bong Joon-ho also entitled Mother (2009), minus the exclamation point. All are much better options than this. Hopefully Darren Aronofsky can rebound and once again make a powerful movie.
Here is a well edited updated trailer for Rosemary’s Baby. One of the biggest hits from director Roman Polanski. It made me realize how Javier Bardem was channelling John Cassavetes in his performance. This trailer is better than anything in Mother!