Format: Blu-ray from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.
I know roughly where I am starting out with this, but I have no idea where I’m going to end up. I knew going into mother! that writing anything about it wasn’t going to be easy. I didn’t know it was going to be this difficult, though. I’ve put up more than 3000 reviews on Letterboxd, each with a star rating until now. While I will almost certainly eventually post ranking, at the moment I’m not sure what that ranking should or even could be.
Let’s start with the fact that mother! is clearly allegorical. There is not much of a way to view this as a straight story without the allegory. You’re going to be preached to at some level here, an interesting thought since Aronofsky is an atheist. This is despite the fact that both mother! and Noah have clearly religious themes.
The film starts with a woman dying in a fire. A man, known as Him (Javier Bardem) places a crystal on a pedestal in the middle of a burned-out house. Once it has been placed, the house renews itself, suddenly repairing itself from all of the fire damage. Once this has happened, mother (Jennifer Lawrence) awakens and goes to look for her husband, Him. She is working on making their house the way they both want it to be. Their idyllic world is interrupted by the arrival of man (Ed Harris), who is a fan of Him, who turns out to be a poet. It’s also clear that man is ill and dying. Shortly after his arrival, his wife woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up. The two of them inadvertently shatter the crystal object from the opening, and that changes the mood in the house.
Before mother can remove man and woman from the house, their two children show up. These two are known as oldest son (Domhnall Gleeson) and younger brother (Brian Gleeson). The two argue over man’s will, and it eventually gets heated. The two fight and oldest son brutally attacks his brother, forcing everyone (except mother) to take him to the hospital, where he dies. This leads to something like a wake in the house, something that frustrates mother, especially when the visitors come to pay their respects start to damage the house.
Eventually, mother gets pregnant, something that causes Him to become inspired. He produces a work that immediately sells out, and thousands of people show up at the house to see him. The celebratory dinner she plans for Him turns sour when those people more or less break into the house with His permission. More and more people arrive and start to take things from the house, all while praising the work of Him. It becomes more and more chaotic, eventually one of the people in the house (known as herald and played by Kristen Wiig) acting as His publicist, starts ordering mass executions while military forces fight against crazed fans. Eventually, the child is born, and it’s at this point that I’m not sure how to react to things, save to say that it includes the arrival of Stephen McHattie, an actor I like.
I’m not going to go into what happens once the child is born. If you’ve seen this, you absolutely can’t forget what happens and if you haven’t it shouldn’t be spoiled for you, even accidentally. Suffice it to say that I’m left in a position where I honestly don’t know how to react. I’m in a position where I honestly cannot tell if what Aronofsky has done here is create something incredibly tone deaf and misogynist or somehow brilliant in spite of itself. I’ve seen both sides of this as a possibility discussed by a wide range of people, with people pretty much every description on both sides of this argument. I can say that it’s terrible and awful in every way that you can imagine. In fact, it’s probably worse.
There’s a part of me that wants to say that mother! is a work of genius despite the fact that the allegory is so easy to follow. The only character whose name is capitalized is Him, which certainly labels Him as a specific character. If we assume that obvious conclusion, mother herself could be synonymous with Mother Nature, man and woman are Adam and Eve with their two sons as Cain and Abel. And from there, you’re certainly on your way to filling in the rest of the blanks. It’s why I’ve been so careful to only capitalize His name in this review, point of fact.
And that’s another sticking point here. I don’t have any serious issue with allegory, but I do expect to work for it a little. mother! doesn’t really require a great deal of effort from the audience. It comes across as being pretty on the nose.
So I don’t know what to think of it. I literally have not decided if it is the worst travesty from 2017 cinema or a film that needs to be considered as an act of artistic genius. Or both. Both is entirely possible. Thoughts? I think I need them.
Why to watch mother!: It’ll mess with your head.
Why not to watch: It’s not going to mess with your head in a good way.