Writer-director Darren Aronofsky’s bonkers “mother!” stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a couple who contend with houseguests from hell. It’s an expertly executed wild ride.
Based off the trailer and poster, many have surmised that this is Aronofsky’s tribute to “Rosemary’s Baby,” and there are similarities: a waifish young blonde wife (Lawrence); an egotistical artist husband (Bardem); an overbearing older couple (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) who make themselves at home despite the discomfort of the subservient, passive bride.
The films also share the theme of pregnancy and parenthood, but “mother!” is possessed of its own raucous, unleashed energy that builds to a riotous crescendo. The villain here is not Satan, but unchecked humanity itself. There’s more than enough evil to go around with the people in this home.
Aronofsky keeps the audience focused completely on the subjective experience of Lawrence’s unnamed young wife, as unwanted guests invade her sanctuary, a huge, lonely Victorian mansion. The camera follows her as she walks throughout the house, grants us access to her point of view, moves uncomfortably close for nearly abstract close-ups of the dewy planes of Lawrence’s face. The overlapping sound design is note perfect. Footfalls take on the tenor of gunshots, voices signal danger and, always, she experiences an overwhelming ringing in her ears.
Lawrence is remarkably restrained throughout the first two-thirds of the film, as the perfect little wife too polite for her own good. She modulates her tone, and never gets mad enough at her rude intruders. When she finally, finally screams, “Get out of my house!” it’s a cathartic experience for her, and the audience.
The film goes completely off the rails at a point where you expect it to end, after all of its exhausting mayhem. But Aronofsky pushes it completely to the limit, drains every drop in the same way that his leading lady does. There are some sickeningly violent images that are deeply uncomfortable to watch and toe the line of decency.
Critics were provided with a director’s statement to be read before the film, elucidating what was on Aronofsky’s mind when he coughed up the screenplay for “mother!” over the course of five feverish days of writing. But the best way to see this film is knowing as little as possible. When we’re clued in to Aronofsky’s thought process, it leads to a sense that his metaphor is a little too on-the-nose as we plunge into the absolutely insane climax of the film.
However, what makes “mother!” brilliant is that it is open enough to read and project your own experiences onto it, which makes it deeply personal and universal.
More than any metaphor about the state of the world, “mother!” is a film about being in a relationship with a narcissist: someone who takes and takes and takes all of your love down to the very last drop without ever giving anything back. Any viewer can place their own experiences on top of this story, and ultimately, hopefully, honestly consider what it fully means to give, and to take.