Mother knows best
mother! is directed by Darren Aronofsky and stars Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer.
If there was such a thing as the race for most polarizing film of the year, then it should stop right here and now, because I don't see any way that any other film that has yet to be released or has already been released this year could possibly provide any meaningful competition to the likes of mother! To have your film be regarded as polarizing is usually as much of a complement as it is a harsh criticism, and it's usually the case for movies that go for the artsy, thought-provoking approach like mother! goes for. If you had to ask me what my thoughts are on how the Average Joe's and Plain Jane's of the world perceive artsy, make-you-think movies nowadays, I would tell you that today's Average Joes and Plain Janes don't like those said films, because who wants to go to the theater anymore and really engage their brains with what is unfolding on-screen? Go see an action film. You've got your hero, your villain, and a basic plot. Nothing else to really think about as you lie back all cozy in your seat, enjoying a barrage of guns and explosions. Or go see a cheap horror movie, where you spend 90 minutes just to get some jolts into your system. Now, what if someone suggested that you go see a movie that has a lot of symbolism, thematic depth, and thought-provoking ideas? Unless you happen to be a dedicated cinephile, the most likely answer you will give is "Nah man. I'll pass."
I am one to vouch for the fact that thought-provoking, analysis-heavy movies have lost touch with mainstream theater audiences today, usually finding themselves buried under a barrage of big budget tentpole films that require little to no brain power to follow and understand. Why else would this movie get an average F grade from people on CinemaScore? Aronofsky is purposefully taking people out of their comfort zone and forcing them to work up the juices in their brains. On the other hand, it could just be that my assumption of audiences becoming dumber is wrong (I hope that's the case), and the issue is actually that Aronofsky's attempt here at being clever and deep isn't executed properly. When you have a movie that polarizes people like this one does, there doesn't really exist a middle ground in which someone can just brush off the film as passable and decent. It's either perceived as a masterful work of art or a hot mess. My personal feeling toward the film still remains indecisive, being right on the fence dividing masterpiece from piece of crap.
The basic story centers on a couple played by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem. Bardem's character, simply known as Him, is an acclaimed poet currently suffering from writer's block. Lawrence goes by Mother, and her occupation is never stated during the film. She spends her days renovating the large, Victorian-style house that the two live in. One day, an old Man (Ed Harris) stumbles upon the house asking for a place to stay. The Poet agrees to let the Man stay, despite the objections from Mother. It is soon revealed that the Man has a wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), and the couple make themselves at home. Mother doesn't take well to this at all, but it only gets worse from there when more and more people arrive at the house, sending things into utter chaos.
The first immediate sign that mother! is attempting to be something other-worldly is the fact that no character in the movie is given a proper name. This is also a sign that a lot of what goes on in the movie is taking place in some surrogate reality. The one other movie that most comes to mind is David Lynch's Mulholland Dr., which follows a strikingly similar pattern to the way mother! structures its plot. The first three quarters of both movies follow a straightforward line, until the movie falls into some out-of-this-world dream-like state that would completely lose all of the objective, logical viewers in the audience. But unlike Mulholland Dr., mother! climaxes with an absolutely apeshit finale that isn't supposed to be dream-like, and caps off with an ending that supposedly brings everything full circle, where as Mulholland Dr. sort of leaves you hanging up in the air. If you take away the last ten or so minutes, mother! seems to become more and more nonsensical by the minute. But even when considering what happens in those final ten or so minutes, I'm still not sure if the movie still doesn't make any sense, or if it does achieve master status.
I want to think that Aronofsky is intending for his movie to be interpreted in many ways. After thinking through everything I saw, I just cannot shake the notion that everything that happens is meant to serve as religious allegories. We're not talking "meaning of life" or anything profoundly surreal like that. We're talking biblical references and religious zealots and all those sort of things. With that said, mother! may very well be a turn off to the hardcore atheists and other non-religious folks on top of the objective Spocks in the audience. But maybe it's not a religiously-themed movie at all. I think it is, and I haven't found anything to convince me otherwise.
- All themes and ideas aside, it's worth nothing the strong performances given by everyone, especially Lawrence and Bardem. Lawrence has already shown how she is able to successfully display a full range of emotions from her work in the likes of The Hunger Games and Silver Linings Playbook. Here, she really nails turning herself into an emotional wreck who is helpless to stop the madness unfolding right before her very eyes. Bardem seems really invested in his role as well, and he nicely complements Lawrence.
- One thing I can say for sure that I hated about mother! is its poor camera work. Nearly every scene looks as if it was filmed handheld, but the worst part is how the camera has an unhealthy obsession with Jennifer Lawrence's head. Every time she's on screen, it's either right up in her face or close up on the back of her head. There's also a few shaky cam sequences that don't succeed at generating any sense of tension or uneasiness when Lawrence's Mother is wandering around the house, going out of her mind. I spent the movie desperately begging for a medium or wide shot in which the camera didn't seem to move, and I don't recall ever getting it.
I was at first tempted to not give this movie a grade because of how indecisive I felt about it. After thinking it over enough, I can say that I did enjoy the film, though its allegorical narrative isn't as effective as Aronofsky was hoping it to be. The bad camera work is also a major setback. Perhaps the movie is secretly brilliant and people just aren't thinking about it in the right way. But how can we? Aronofsky leaves so much up to interpretation, and some of what he does leave open-ended doesn't really seem to make sense when you think about how everything comes together in the end. Is it about religion? It is about the human condition? Whatever it is, mother! should be the most recent example of how a controversial, symbolic storyline can be cinema's biggest double edged sword.
Recommend? If you know someone who you can talk about it with, then I would see it.
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