Some controversy simmered in the movie industry last September, all due to one film that was simultaneously worshipped and detested, labeled as both the best and worst movie of 2017.
mother! has been called a psychological horror film, and, though it possesses many of the qualities this genre is known for, the film feels like a patchwork of several different forms of storytelling, all quilted together into something unsettling. But, this style of narrative is familiar to those acquainted with the name Darren Aronofsky, who, aside from this movie, demonstrated his surreal, unorthodox direction in films like Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream.
The basic storyline centers around a couple living inside a house that, shortly after burning down, was meticulously rebuilt by the unnamed wife of the household (Jennifer Lawrence).
This and other kind gestures, however, are almost uniformly snubbed by her unnamed husband (Javier Bardem), a poet so preoccupied by his own writer’s block that he resorts to letting random and undesirable guests into their home, ignoring his wife’s objections. This escalates into some incredibly surreal and disturbing scenarios, so difficult to stomach, in fact, that they are impossible to fully describe in text.
As I said, the film pulls elements from many classical storylines, including mythology, Gothic tales, Victorian romances, and, most prominently of all, the Bible. Though this may sound cluttered and overzealous, it actually comes together perfectly, resulting in an interesting experience where all universal stories, modern and archaic, spiritual and realistic, fall into the one unending story of humanity.
That being said, one can’t help but ask: what if audiences completely miss these allusions? Sure, there is a level of intelligence which is reasonable for a film to ask of a viewer. But, by doing this, mother! immediately narrows its audience, for better or for worse.
Aronofsky knows well this movie is not for everyone and continues to ask more of the viewer in a panoply of ways. In between the staggeringly violent images, the catharsis of Lawrence’s character and the sheer level of visceral energy, mother! is a deeply upsetting experience, whether you like the movie or not.
Some will see this as a fault, but I see it as a challenge and not without payoff. Without unveiling too much plot, sticking this movie out to the end will bring you to one of the most satisfying and, for a film this experimental, surprisingly definite endings I have ever witnessed.
The line between avant-garde and up-its-own-ass is by no means a new battlefield for psychological horror, and, though Aronofsky is already known for his mystifying style, I’m not sure any of his other works reach the same heights as this one. For those of you who are willing to walk that fine tightrope between epiphany and incoherence, mother! is a must–see.
Warning: I had to take a break halfway through because I was so riveted by what was on the screen that my eyes started watering.