By Nathan Evans
I love Darren Aronofsky. ‘Pi’, ‘Requiem for a Dream’, ‘The Wrestler’, ‘The Fountain’, and ‘Black Swan’: all thought provoking, disturbing, unique masterworks that explore the dark depths of addiction, the pain of perfection, and the bounds of love. Aronofsky is a filmmaker unlike any other; an auteur capable of producing cinema that would be at home in an arthouse, yet still manages to play to mainstream sensibilities. In spite of his previous, seemingly lackluster effort, 2014’s ‘Noah’ (I never actually finished it, so I don’t feel comfortable bashing it), he’s consistently come to mind whenever I stop to think about my favorite directors working today. That’s why it pains me to write the review I’m about to write.
Aronofsky’s latest film, ‘mother!’ (yes, that isn’t capitalized on purpose: that’s the title), is a pretentious, assaultive chore of a film that is nowhere near as deep as it thinks it is. The film stars Jennifer Lawrence as the title character, Mother (the only name we know her by). Mother lives with her poet husband, Him (Javier Bardem (see: pretentious)) in a country home she’s in the process of painstakingly renovating. As Mother works, Him struggles to break through a severe case of writer’s block.
The pair’s routine is soon disturbed by the arrival of a man known only as Man (ugh) portrayed by Ed Harris and his wife, Woman *eye roll*, portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer. Man and Woman waste no time making themselves at home to the delight of Him, but to the chagrin of Mother. Him becomes increasingly enamored with the unwanted couple as Mother struggles to cope with their presence. It’s not long before others join Man and Woman and proceed to tear apart the peaceful existence Him and Mother have built together.
On paper that premise might sound intriguing, and it might be if that were the extent of the plot, but the film makes it clear about midway through that it isn’t interested in a straightforward narrative. Aronofsky has given himself over entirely to the abstract sensibilities he’s dabbled with in ‘The Fountain’ and ‘Black Swan’. The result is a film that serves in its entirety as a metaphor. A biblical metaphor, an exploration of the creative process and the strain it puts on relationships, an allegory about man’s abuse of the environment: it’s all here, yet none of it’s profound. Aronofsky doesn’t say anything we haven’t heard before, and he says it the most repetitive, punishing way possible.
There’s no denying the technical craft at play within ‘mother!’. The film is shot almost entirely in extreme closeup from Jennifer Lawrence’s perspective, within the confines of a single location. Despite this, the film is narratively sparse. Aronofsky repeats the same story beats over and over again throughout the course of the film, padding out the runtime and building tension around mysteries that are never paid off, and, as far as I can tell, don’t support the thematic elements of the film.
The imagery within the film suffers the same fate. Aronofsky repeats himself ad nauseam, not only within the confines of the film itself either. He liberally cribs from his other movies. There are scenes within ‘mother!’ we’ve seen before in ‘Pi’ and ‘Requiem’: human body parts turning up in the bathroom and inanimate objects suffering humanlike wounds just to name a couple.
If that weren’t bad enough, the imagery becomes increasingly vile and punishing. We get several extended scenes that chronicle the endangerment and death of an infant as well as extensive abuse suffered by Mother. Aronofsky is attempting to get a visceral reaction out of his audience, but rather than being disturbed by the images I found them unintentionally hilarious. Aronofsky has never been subtle (it’s been one of his strengths in the past) but here the sheer ridiculousness of any given situation contrasted with the utter sincerity of the performances from Lawrence and Bardem produce something difficult to take seriously. If this is Aronofsky’s intention, then he hit the mark, but I doubt that’s the case.
Perhaps the most egregious slight committed by ‘mother!’ is the way the material hampers its actors. Bardem and Lawrence have proven themselves to be talented performers, but Aronofsky’s writing here is so broad the actors never get to play more than a handful of tones. Bardem is either neglectful, pouty or gleeful and Lawrence is only capable of expressing timidness or rage. This lack of complexity only serves to draw more attention to the lack of narrative and the emptiness of the film’s themes. It also serves to make you feel every second of the film’s extensive runtime.
As a twenty-nine year old man I’ve grown old enough to become accustomed to the things I love disappointing me, but it doesn’t make it any less impactful when they do. I hope ‘mother!’ is only a minor misstep in one of my favorite director’s filmography, but this film is so incredibly bad I’m not so sure it can be. I hope that I’m wrong, but unless Aronofsky somehow finds a way to claw out from deep within his own asshole, I doubt it.
RATING: 1 OUT OF 5
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