It’s a special feat for a film to so divide critical opinion that the trenchant reactions’ very nature, rather than pure consideration of the flick’s actual merits, or lack thereof, would go such a way to bespeak it’s value, both endearing Mother! to the faithful and forewarning a wisely circumspect audience.
Granted, Mother! is a film that can only flourish to the extent that it’s perception is scattered; revelling in allegorical rabbit-holes whose more formidable foundations should never be mistaken as anything but peerless to that witnessed here, nor its indeterminacy or casual relationships with its various strands mistook for that which could be considered ably multifaceted. It wants you to think about each and everything it throws at you and hopes beyond hope that it all sticks; together ideas and concepts throughout regrettably the subject of neglectful, passing introspection.
To elaborate too greatly on the plot would be unfair to anyone who craves the visceral reaction Director Darren Aronofsky so desperately wishes to impart. Suffice to say, the main figure, played by Jennifer Lawrence (none of the characters are named) lives an isolated life with her writer husband (Javier Bardem) in the home she newly-renovated, until one day, a houseguest arrives (Ed Harris). From there, as confusion mounts, none more so than in the eyes of Lawrence’s character, purportedly fantastical elements begin to dominate what at least at the outset and from much of the marketing appeared to have its basis in traditional horror fare.
As with Aronofsky’s Noah, the pitch for this film to a wider audience has done a disservice to those who might not have taken to its preconceptions yet still found it compelling, many of whom, faced with the choice of a horror film, might fairly have opted to see the new adaptation of It. Even then, as horror Mother! relies on the jump-scares audiences will no doubt expect. Whether it be a face behind a shut door, a walk down to the basement or creaking floorboards, by falling back on its traditional trappings Mother! sacrifices any semblance of eeriness conversely inherent to the lone estate’s setting. An imperceptibly lit furnace occasionally emanating warmth may as well have featured Kevin McAllister running full-pelt up the stairs for all the impact it mustered.
It helps even less when characters relentlessly say exactly what they are thinking or what they are about to do. As goes the film’s allegorical nature this may advance proceedings, though as far as tension matters the screenplay will leave audiences wanting.
What could have nonetheless succeeded as a horror film ala Rosemary’s Baby, to which Mother! has not unfairly been compared for its first act alone, too regretfully sidelines the question of whether what we see is real or a very thick clump of wool, as the propounded nature of events soon renders this evident. The further interpretation of Mother! as intrinsically a statement on artists’ struggles is sidelined through the little we know, or experience, of Bardem’s character and his writing beyond Lawrence’s perception of the escalating theatrics.
None of this detracts from the performances, Lawrence above all boasting an engrossing turn alongside the ever-reliable Bardem. Michelle Pfeiffer joins the fray as the only figure who with a slight glance or aside can silently set the mood. Domhnall Gleeson, brother Brian and, strangely, Kristen Wiig are present all too fleetingly to register or sadly make any significant contribution to the film.
What does detract from the performances is just how intimately we are forced to view them, with most of the focus on Lawrence, not unlike the experience of her co-stars, being transfixed between her forehead and chin. We are barely treated to a perception of just how the goings-on affect anything but the central character’s gaze, as if being in lockstep with her point of view throughout was the only way to produce the empathy necessary to carry us through to any sense of a compelling conclusion.
The allegorical aspects, more evident in the feature’s later stages, unlike many parables which seek to draw an allusion with one or more finite if complex notions here attempts to purvey literally epochs of ancient and modern understandings – something that could not reasonably be expected to be achieved fittingly in the space of two hours. Flitting between schools of thought from different if not unconnected realms, the overstated dialogue together with the highly improbable nature of events and the briefest of episodic snippets corresponding to prolific western thought and narrative immemorial serve to convey neither a sense of wonder nor detailed treatment of its varied subject matters, with the function of some additions so glaringly obvious that it makes you question why Aronofsky didn’t commit to a fully immersive vision better realised by the likes of Fellini.
Audiences won’t likely take to Mother! and it’s not for Aronofsky’s chosen themes, but their execution. Cinemagoers have shown that they will relish that familial, historical and/or theological if depicted in a manner that adopts some measure of adequate discernment to not only its origins but how they are perceived today, Children of Men and The Matrix being two of the prominent examples. Needlessly bluntish treatments of their source or fluidity to the point of diluting their impact with extraneous atmospherics or that which would otherwise be engaging in a different genre have better characterised less considered flicks, among them The Adjustment Bureau, or to draw a more direct comparison with the particular theological underpinnings of Mother! and the conceptions it has chosen to convey, The Matrix: Reloaded.
The ending nor the film itself so transcendent as evidently desired, relying on shock value in the absence of emotionally-laden fear or sufficiently detailed consequence for any of the increasingly bizarre actions unfolding, full-fledged allegorical, horror and inherently human tales could not realize their full potential in tandem, nor effectively contribute to this jumbled mess of a film.
Mother! is in cinemas now