****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****
My Rating : 2 out of 5 stars
My Recommendation : SKIP IT. Even the most edgy of art house inhabitants will find this film tough to swallow.
Most people don't know this about me, but due to a serious health condition (just like Christian Slater in Untamed Heart, I have a baboon's heart), I am one of those weird people who does not drink caffeine at all, no coffee, no tea, no Coca-Cola, and I almost never drink non-caffienated soda either. This is a shocking revelation, but I promise you it is true. Of the rare times I do indulge in a non-caffienated soda, it is always in the form of root beer and always when I go to the movies. One of the very few pleasures I have in my miserable life is to sit in the dark, watching a movie, drinking a gloriously oversized root beer and eating popcorn. Hell, sometimes I go to the movies just for the a taste of that bubbly brown nectar of the gods that we mortals know as the beer of root.
When I trekked to the theatre to see Mother!, my usual pre-root beer sense of anticipation was heightened because the film is directed by one of my favorite filmmakers, Darren Aronofsky. An Aronofsky film and an ice cold root beer…what could possibly go wrong? Well, two things happened that would portend that Mother! would not be the stellar movie going experience for which I was hoping. The first was that when I bought my ticket I saw that the price had gone up nearly four dollars from what I usually pay. In Los Angeles, movie tickets aren't cheap to begin with, and then to realize that even though I went to the first showing of the day, because that day was not a Monday or Tuesday, I would no longer get the matinee price. So, after being forced to take out a second mortgage in order to cover the costs, I reluctantly shelled out my $16.50 for my movie ticket and then bought my overpriced root beer and popcorn. At this point I was now deeply in debt and the movie hadn't even started yet. I then entered the darkened theatre and began my movie going ritual of shutting off my phone and my mind, and settling in for a film I was excited to see.
Then, just as the lights dimmed and the opening credits rolled, I took the inaugural sip of my root beer and….God help me…it was FLAT. Now there may be nothing worse in the entire universe than flat root beer…not famine, not pestilence, not war. Nothing!
Now, my conundrum was this, do I get up and make the mile and half death march to the concession stand to make my displeasure known, which will no doubt be followed by a lackadaisical response to my complaint by the ill tempered staff, which will then trigger a disinterested plea on a walkie-talkie to the theatre bureaucracy to change out the floppy bag from which my gallon of flat root beer was birthed. I surmised that breaking through the malaise of employee indifference to solve my flat root beer problem could take at least 15 minutes, and by that time, the entire opening of the movie would be long gone, and God knows they sure as hell weren't going to rewind the reel and let me start my cinema experience over front the beginning.
My other option was to, Christ-like, be a root beer martyr and just sit there and suffer the brutal indignity of taking tiny sips of the flaccid, syrupy concoction I was served. Being the good Irish-Catholic boy that I am, I made the difficult decision to endure my tonic torture and root beer brutality, and I stayed to watch the film with my gargantuan, de-bubbled companion. I should have known, all the signs were there, but my flat vat of root beer was a very bad omen indeed for Mother!, which turned out to be just as unpleasant to ingest as my 40 oz cup of flat, teeth dissolving and gut-rotting root beer.
The basics of Mother! are this, it is written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, and the story is a sort of supernatural, psychological thriller-dramedy about a couple living in an isolated farmhouse. The film stars Jennifer Lawrence with Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michele Pfeiffer in supporting roles.
I am a great admirer of director Darren Aronofsky, I believe him to be a true visionary and auteur, and one of the great filmmakers of his generation, second only to Paul Thomas Anderson. Aronofsky's breakthrough film, Requiem for a Dream, is a masterpiece, and his movies The Wrestler and Black Swan are truly outstanding pieces of work . Even The Fountain, one of his least critically successful films, is a fascinating and mesmerizing movie that I genuinely adore.
Aronofsky's last film though, was the utterly abysmal Noah, which was so atrocious as to be staggering. As I said though, I am ever the optimist, so I had very high hopes that with Mother!, Aronofsky would shake off the big budget blues that plagued Noah and return to his signature intimate character study approach to filmmaking that he does so well. Sadly, with Mother!, it seems Aronofsky is still grappling with the same thematic and cinematic demons which devoured him on Noah.
Mother! is a difficult film to categorize, some call it a psychological thriller, others a supernatural comedy and some still a religious horror film. I think it is mostly none of the above. If I am putting Mother! in its best light, I would say it is an ambitious, experimental, art house, horror-esque film. It is at times, very remotely reminiscent of Rosemary's Baby and maybe even The Shining, but then again it is absolutely nothing like those film at all. There really is no straight up comparison between Mother! and any other film I can think of, which I suppose can be taken as a compliment towards the movie.
The trouble with Mother!, is that the first two thirds of the film are so suffocatingly monotonous, repetitious and dull that they swallow up any redeeming qualities the film may conjure in its final act. The final third of the film definitely intrigued me the most as it is Aronofsky at his most experimental and interesting. That said, even though the last act is unique, incredibly ambitious and its apocalyptic vision is certainly relevant in regards to what is resonating in our cultural consciousness at the moment, that doesn't mean it is good. While I admire Aronofsky for his bold approach in that final act, I also recognize that he failed at what he was trying to accomplish. I believe that third act is a noble failure, but it is a failure nonetheless. Unfortunately, the first two thirds of the film are so stultifying as to be cinematically fatal. I understand that the first two acts are supposed to be a sort of slow burn that builds to the chaotic, frenetic and Boschian final act, but because the first two acts are so tedious the film never generates enough interest or artistic momentum to make the final act worthwhile or artistically satisfying.
The film stars Jennifer Lawrence, who is as captivating and compelling an actress as we have working today, but even with her charisma and luminous beauty, she is unable to save the banal script from itself. As I watched Mother! I marveled at how it is impossible to imagine any other current actress being able to undertake the mammoth role and responsibility Jennifer Lawrence does in this movie. She is on screen the entire film and is in close up relentlessly, and while the camera dances dizzily around her head she never fails to be magnetic. While Mother! is not a good film, and reflects poorly on its director, it is still a monument to the colossal talent and skill of its leading lady, Jennifer Lawrence.
Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michele Pfeiffer all struggle with underwritten and rather incongruous roles that are little more than an annoyance to behold. These characters are so irrational, illogical and unbelievable that it is impossible for the viewer to be anything but repulsed by their presence and annoyed they must be endured. All three characters feel like they have wandered in from a very poorly written off-off-off Broadway play.
In terms of theme, Mother! is a film that uses a plethora of religious allegories and metaphors to tell a greater story than just that of a young couple living in a remodeled farmhouse. While the film is set entirely in a rather claustrophobic old house, to call the movie biblical in its ambition, if not its scale, would be entirely accurate. Aronofsky uses this house to play out the struggle of God from Genesis in the Old Testament to Christ's birth and crucifixion in the New Testament and even all the way up to our modern times and beyond. The most intriguing aspect of the film is the thematic exploration of the divine Feminine and its relationship to the divine Masculine. The Anima - Animus relationship is one well worthy of cinematic investigating, and watching the Patriarchal God usurp the Goddess is fascinating in theory, but not in execution. I was deeply enthralled by all of the philosophy, theology and themes on display in the film, but viscerally repelled by the lackluster consummation of those topics.
Despite the intriguing third act and Jennifer Lawrence's noteworthy performance, I simply cannot, in good conscience, recommend Mother! to anyone. Watching the film felt more like an exercise in cinematic endurance or surviving creative torture than entertainment or artistic experience. I would maybe…just maybe...tell my more adventurous cinephile friends, and those who are ardent fans of Darren Aronofsky, to roll the dice and go see the film just to see if they agree with my assessment of it. But for regular folks, and even those who enjoy the art house, I say skip Mother! in the theatre and everywhere else.
In conclusion, Mother! is similar to root beer, that delightful beverage that is infused with bubbles and a delicious pile of sugar as large as Scarface's desktop cocaine stash. Like root beer, Mother! has all the right ingredients, a uniquely gifted, visionary director in Darren Aronofsky, and a talented and alluring lead actress in Jennifer Lawrence, but just like my lifeless and insipid root beer at the theatre, Mother! never properly mixes its many desirable ingredients or infuses them with carbonated energy, and thus leaves viewers with a bitter and sour taste in their mouth once they've taken an unfortunate taste. Yuck.