Different movies have different goals. Audiences need to quickly abandon the idea that movies are simply “entertainment.” That’s a terrible way to live. There are people who consider movies to simply be “a distraction,” an opportunity for two hours of guided storytelling, to engage with fictional characters and fantastic stories that transport them to a different time and place. The transportive process of cinema is truly amazing: The goal isn’t to transport folks to the same place over and over again. Sometimes they want to laugh. Sometimes they want to cry. Other times they want to be challenged. For the brave few of the latter, I present Darren Aronofsky’s entertaining clusterfuck “Mother!”
Aronofsky is the kind of director who seems to take obscene levels of pleasure messing with an audience. He makes deliberate choices in many of his films seemingly to take blunt jabs at anyone sitting through one of his stories. Some movies are simple A-to-B affairs, which stay on track and never veer too far in other directions. Aronofsky prefers crazy roller coasters frequently in danger of flying off the tracks. I like these experiences every so often, too; fearing any moment the whole thing could come crashing down. There are few filmmakers capable of taking us on such a strange, wonderful ride.
“Mother!” introduces an unnamed female protagonist (Jennifer Lawrence), who lives in an isolated house in the middle of nowhere with her beautiful life and equally nameless life partner (Javier Bardem). Her days are dedicated to him; serving him breakfast, tending to his needs and ego, and restoring the old house, which had seen better days. There is an underlying tension between the two; underneath the perfect porcelain surface, she’s wracked with neurosis and anxiety. Everything feels like it’s moments away from falling apart. The problems with their relationship become exacerbated when a couple shows up and is invited to stay in one of their many empty rooms.
The wife is none too thrilled with the idea of having house guests, especially ones who are as inconsiderate and eccentric as the characters played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer. (I’m pretty sure they didn’t have names either. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter because anyone who’s paying any attention will figure out their identities quickly.) In fact, the whole central plot and theme is delivered with such a heaping helping of ham that anyone who needs more than 20 minutes to figure it out probably isn’t paying attention.
Let me get this out of the way right now: “Mother!” is a mental piece of manic moviemaking. It’s one long, brutal experience with a single punchline. Once audiences figure it out, they’ll either gleefully enjoy the ride or get annoyed with its predictability of the remaining movie. I refuse to give anything away because revealing the creative choices and certain story elements will spoil the whole thing. And this is a film where knowing as little as possible greatly benefits the viewer. So it makes reviewing “Mother!” a bit of a chore.
And that may be another facet of genius at play here with Aronofsky. He’s able to make a crazy, hyperbolic, polarizing piece of cinema, almost completely destroyed the moment viewers know anything about it. Even the most simple of sentences is a spoiler.
Jennifer Lawrence does a great job playing the doe-eyed caretaker forced to deal with an inhumane level of abuse and neglect. Javier Bardem is a very likable, well-loved lout. There’s a strange chemistry between them that makes their unlikely relationship work well. Even in the most strangest of plot circumstances, the two make the material feel manageable. Trust me when I say, it is no easy task.
There are those who will love “Mother!” and the insane lack of morality play. Others will absolutely hate it. Both camps could make solid arguments. It’s somehow both dumber than a box of rocks and as pretentious as a performance-art piece, hosted at a gluten-free microbrewery, owned by mustache aficionados.
“Mother!” demands a reaction. I found myself not hating or loving it, but appreciating it for being unconventional, strange and morbidly amusing. I’ve seen so many cookie-cutter films over the years, and the truly weird ones are always a refreshing change of pace. And this one might be the “mother” of all weird movies.