review: “mother!” mia!

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

“After the movie, visit the box office to get your tickets,” a voice over commanded.

We glanced around the theatre, laughing nervously. That doesn’t make sense, I pondered. You buy the tickets BEFORE you see the movie. Was the trailer asking us to see the movie again? 

I’m sure it took other audience members mere moments to figure it out, but it took me nearly a week to realize that the trailer was telling us to buy tickets to mother! AFTER we saw It (the film where mother! was being previewed). mother! excels in providing imagery that lasts, even when it doesn’t make sense. However, knowing what I know now, my misperception perfectly encapsulated the film’s cyclical themes and (perhaps unintentional) absurdist tone.

“Jennifer Lawrence yelling at people to get out of her house,” is probably the easiest way to summarize mother! without giving too much away. Darren Aronofsky’s seventh film, and his first as sole writer/director, has built its marketing campaign around the mystery and intensity of its plot. For some, not knowing the arc in advance will make the film a joy to watch. For others, walking into the movie with the wrong expectations (i.e. that it will be a traditional horror flick) will ruin the experience.

That said, who could blame someone for expecting mother! to be a straightforward movie? The title makes it sound like a fun romp, and it stars Jennifer Lawrence! While arguably more traumatic moments occur in The Hunger Games or Passengers, neither have as much aggression or love for metaphor as mother!

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Consisting primarily of close-up shots within one isolated house, mother! uses claustrophobia and spatial awareness as its method of fright. Don’t expect much screaming though. The supporting characters, including Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer and a number of other “name” actors who don’t appear in the trailers, act so absurdly you may be shocked into laughter. Aronofsky builds the tension marvelously, but the catharsis results in what one might consider a punchline.

I say this not to be dismissive, but to iterate that the horror of mother! lies in overwhelming, creepy imagery, not jump scares. It’s like a two-hour adaptation of The Shining, but only the moment with the bear suit and the businessman. Whether or not you think the movie is “good”, it follows that the experience will be confounding and compelling.

Truly, the scariest thing about the film is that Javier Bardem, Lawrence’s on-screen partner, is 21 years her senior. This age gap is not ignored by the film, and disposable femininity becomes of the motifs. However, given that Aronofsky is the same age as Bardem (off by less than a month), and is dating Lawrence in real life, one wonders whether the film is critiquing an industrial sexism, or playing into it.

If you’re seeing mother! with a group of friends, expect some differing opinions. As an audience member, first you have to get on board with the movie being one long religious allegory (Count me in!). Then, you have to endure the grotesque imagery (Psssh. No problem. There’s more appalling moments in The Emoji Movie!). Finally, you have to think that the extended metaphor is worthwhile (Eh. Once it becomes clear what’s happening, it’s not subtle nor interesting). The technical choices are fantastic, but questions of purpose and effect will be the main drivers of your opinion.

With all of that said, It was not the right crowd to market this movie to. As advertised, there are shocking turns and horrifying imagery, but the movie lacks the intimacy required to keep it grounded. Mainstream audiences looking for their next scare will come out disappointed. However, mother! still remains an ambitious film with a celebration of anger and chaos so visceral it can’t help but be captivating.

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