Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writer: Darren Aronofsky
Producer: Scott Franklin, Ari Handel
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Brian Gleeson, Domhnall Gleeson, Stephen McHattie, Kristen Wiig
A troubled woman’s quiet life is upended when her husband opens their secluded home to a series of peculiar strangers.
Take a look at Metacritic’s collection of numerical ratings for “mother!” (that will be the only time I kowtow to the snooty insistence of referencing the title with a lowercase ‘m’ and exclamation point). What does it mean that The Los Angeles Times, Austin Chronicle, Time Out, and several other outlets assigned a score of 100? Are they deeming “Mother” to be flawless, on par with the all-time classics, and/or a fulfilling endeavor that any appreciative audience must experience lest they surrender their film fan card?
Probably not. In all likelihood, these instances of perfect praise only tell the tale of the person who wrote the review. Before you counter with, “doesn’t that go without saying,” what I mean to express is that scores aren’t always a reliable gauge for what you want to know to be an informed individual.
Although I too am guilty of letting personal preferences color scores to support my tastes, I don’t see how that approach does anyone any objective good where “Mother” is concerned. 100 is a ridiculous ranking, even if you agree with the critical acclaim. Zero is invalid too, no matter how much hate the movie may inspire. “Mother” is such a polarizing piece of auteur experimentation, the only fair score that accurately reflects the film is an impartial 50/100, because it’s as likely that any given person will love it as much as s/he might loathe it.
Let’s operate under an assumption that you came here looking for advisement regarding whether or not “Mother” would be worth watching. Anyone can estimate the sort of experience in store simply by looking at stories surrounding the theatrical release’s rocky reception.
“Mother” is one of currently less than 20 movies to receive an embarrassing ‘F’ CinemaScore. We can subjectively argue what quantifiable reflection, if any, this is of the film’s general merit. Regardless, ‘F’ essentially tells us that everyone interviewed for the multiplex equivalent of a political exit poll expressed complete dissatisfaction, perhaps because marketing misinformed expectations, or because the movie simply sucked. Either way, one can conclude that “Mother” has next to no mainstream appeal, as low box office returns also proved.
In the wake of this commercial bust, Paramount Pictures’ Megan Collier lamented to The Hollywood Reporter that audiences clamor for original content, yet aren’t necessarily as eager to actually consume it. Collier defended her studio’s production as “very audacious and brave,” further clarifying that it “intended to be bold.” She added, “we don’t want all movies to be safe … it’s okay if some people don’t like it.”
And many people understandably don’t. Director Darren Aronofsky and star Jennifer Lawrence subsequently went on an explanation tour of sorts, with every interview asking about the Scarlet ‘F’ or daring to dig into the interpretive miasma constituting the movie. The sentiment taking shape suggested “Mother” was a boutique niche piece that happened to go national like it was any other average J-Law vehicle. In reality, its trippy psychological thrills were better suited to serve their sentence in arthouse confinement.
What can I add to the conversation surrounding “Mother,” either positive or negative, that hasn’t been covered elsewhere? Not much. “Mother” can best be summed up as a filmmaker’s film, an exercise in avant-garde abstractness ascribing cinematic order to narrative chaos. If the picture of pretentiousness still isn’t painted, consider also that characters don’t have proper names, chronology is fluid, and anyone’s guess is as good as the next for what any of it truly means.
Some have referenced “dream logic” in relation to the film’s strange storytelling style. I object to using the word “logic.” That implies some form of cause-and-effect morality to how the movie operates, and “Mother” doesn’t follow any rules at all.
‘Mother’ lives a seemingly peaceful life in quiet solitude with her struggling writer husband ‘Him.’ That tranquility takes on a drop of trouble that gradually grows more chaotic when a man on their doorstep makes fast friends with Him and becomes a houseguest. Already reeling from haunting visions and odd abdominal pain, Mother doesn’t even have time to remark how no one refers to anyone by a real name as strangers quickly multiply, and Him can’t comprehend Mother’s desire to evict their increasingly intrusive visitors.
By virtue of this purposefully vague premise, Aronofsky expertly builds maddening tension out of disquieting unease and suggestive anticipation. “Mother” isn’t exactly the “Rosemary’s Baby” (review here) homage alluded to by an early teaser poster. Yet it would be reasonable to liken “Mother” to a feature-length version of the furtive whisper scenes frequenting Roman Polanski’s satanic classic, where Rosemary occupies an island of uncertainty stranded in a conspiracy disguised by normality.
Unfortunately, Aronofsky squanders suspense on an overstayed welcome of two full hours stuck on rinse and repeat. The core foursome of Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer forms fascinating personalities out of mannerisms, expressions, and hints of mystery. But their talents, and those of the equally terrific set and cinematography teams, are trapped in a loop with no clear endgame for achieving artistic expression or tangible entertainment.
The obvious allegory in play explores Biblical mythos hand in hand with social commentary on celebrity. If that isn’t the pinnacle of self-important Hollywood posturing doubling as subject matter, I can’t comprehend what else would fit the bill.
It might be just as pompous to dismiss the movie on these grounds. Fact of the matter is, “Mother” accomplishes its goal of being a divisive topic of coffee bar conversation (remember it isn’t broad enough for workplace water cooler talk). You’ll either adore the effort for its artistry or be annoyed by its ambiguity. But you will have a reaction as well as an opinion.
Looking back on everything written above, this piece reads less like a typically structured review and more like rambling blather struggling to make sense. How ironically appropriate then, since “Mother” is less of a traditionally blueprinted film and more of a stream of consciousness exploring loosely connected ideas. Keep that 50/100 score in mind and consider you might want to add or subtract the same amount, depending on how “Mother’s” unusual taste agrees with your particular palate.
Review Score: 50