I suppose I should start this review with the director – Darren Aronofsky – and talk about how his movies are often uncomfortable at best, traumatic at worst. They also often have religious thematic material. mother! is a Darren Aronofsky film, alright. It’s uncomfortable all the time, from the first scenes to the last. It also has religious themes that lay like a thick blanket across the whole of it. Needless to say, the final product is a rather controversial film, with people either loving it or hating it.
But hold on for a moment; his film Requiem for a Dream was also very uncomfortable, almost traumatic to watch, and it didn’t even have a happy ending. But that film is still highly acclaimed, so a film being uncomfortable is not the issue. Requiem for a Dream was stunning when it came to acting and editing, but mother! is shot in such a way that we are constantly in the face of Jennifer Lawrence. The film has no breathing space. As viewers, we are locked up in the point of view of Jennifer Lawrence with the intensity of being in a restraining suit. And she is the constant object of mental violation. I am just saying that mother! is a bit more intense than might be welcome.
I also suppose that the best way of describing the story is as an overarching metaphor for the history of the universe. There is a metaphorical frame in which it all makes sense, and if you are used to creative thinking and familiar with biblical mythology it should not be too hard to figure it out. In his earlier film The Fountain, there are scenes of a floating tree in space, inhabited by a monk, but might actually be a metaphor for the headspace of the main character in other scenes. The whole movie mother! works that way.
I’m just not sure what Aronofsky’s real goal was with this film. His ideas and his skill in making movies deserve some respect, but for mother! it was unclear what kind of reaction he wanted to provoke in his audience. Everything that happens on screen is quite extreme and over the top and I started laughing a bit because of how ridiculous it was, but at the same time the content of the story is very sad, so I felt some shame laughing about it. Was shame the goal here? Are we supposed to feel ashamed for being human, in a Catholic sort of way? I suppose so.
This movie is like An Inconvenient Truth mixed up with the Bible, but reenacted by the cast of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf like a stage play with a few people in a house. Haha no, that is a horrible comparison, but close. The result is both so uncomfortable and absurdist that I had no room left to feel ashamed about being human. If that was the goal. The film might have multiple goals, including a more critical look at God and religion and how we treat the planet. At the least, Aronofsky did manage to combine disparate topics into a single coherent story.
So, the film is quite interesting to follow, but it feels more like an intellectual exercise without an emotional goal on the horizon. Compared to, say, The Fountain, a movie that was about death and loss and was much more immediately about human sorrow, Aronofsky’s biblical metaphors somehow miss that human connection. The film is nicely focused when it comes to location and actors and the acting by Bardem and Lawrence is quite good. It’s an intriguing film but some heart is missing, and the point of it all is overshadowed by Aronofsky’s self-congratulatory absurdism and the extreme extention of the metaphor. You could see the absurdism as black comedy, but I’m not sure if that’s the way we are supposed to see it.