Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, while well-acted and visually appealing, is less a thoughtful, genre-bending examination of the human impact on the world, and more a clumsy religious/environmental commentary beneath a weak facade of art-house horror film.
In mother!, a young couple’s relationship is tested when several uninvited guests arrive at their home and begin to disrupt their lives.
In reality, however, Aronofsky’s film is more directly an allegorical tale about God, Mother Earth, and the human race – one that the director and cast have touted in interviews on numerous occasions. While I am all for allegory and its use in storytelling, mother! reveals its metaphor within the first thirty minutes and proceeds to spend the next hour and a half bludgeoning the audience over the head with the cleverness of its own biblical, ecological, and philosophical symbolism.
There is no doubt that the film does some incredibly interesting things, especially in the area of its cinematography and special effects. The house is transformed over time, moving from idyllic country home to war zone and back, and the seamlessness of the transitions are presented with precision and skill. The performances by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem are fantastic; Lawrence in particular showing a breadth of emotion and range that she’s rarely had the opportunity to experiment with.
The film’s downfall, however, is in how pleased it seems with itself in its allegory, from the creation of man to the story of Cain and Abel and the flood, the film slides through eons of human existence and religious Easter eggs with less of a sly wink and more of a flashing neon sign and it’s that missing nuance that’s so disappointing.
Aronofsky is a phenomenal filmmaker; Pi and Black Swan are amazing films that unquestionably deserve the renown they’ve received. mother!, unfortunately, lacks much of the narrative strength of his previous films in favor of pushing the forced metaphor which Aronofsky seems so enthralled with. If it was handled with a bit more acumen, and maybe a bit less abusive violence and infanticide, mother! could have been amazing.
There is a long history of genre-jumping allegorical films that get the mix perfectly (see the Coen’s Oh Brother Where Art Thou or Villeneuve’s Enemy). Aronofsky’s mother! just doesn’t get the mix right, and while there are some who will rave about the boldness or audacity of the film, it squanders any good will it gains by holding its self-proclaimed cleverness so close to the audience’s collective faces they can’t see anything else.
Rated: R for strong disturbing violent content, some sexuality, nudity and language
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Written by: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer
Release date: September 15, 2017 (USA)
Runtime: 2h 1m