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Aronofsky’s Mother! is a Perverted Dreamscape You’re Not Prepared For

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Mother! (2017)

Written and Directed by Daren Aronofsky

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer

Run time: 121 minutes

Rated R

No film-goer is going to be prepared for what Mother! is going to deliver unto them. From moment-to-moment, scene-to-scene even the most dedicated to story-structure critic and fan will wonder what will happen next. (Fear not reader, I’m not going to spoil any of what happens) There is little familiar or expected in Mother! Writer-director Darren Aronofsky’s film Mother! (the ! is part of the title) is going to be a divisive film.  For those wanting a safe, “I can map this out as it goes” film, Mother! will prove to be an infuriating challenge.  For the rest, they in for a journey. Mother! Is wild and ambitious as all. As seen in previous films, Aronofsky runs as far and fast as he can, and only can hope the audience will keep the pace. What he doesn’t do, however, is hobble himself to please the lowest common denominator.

Aronofsky is no stranger to busting the norms of films. Even the more safer bets like The Wrestler have thrown a few wrenches into expectations.  But Mother! is using “from the film maker of Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan” in the advertising, setting the tone as to how the film will make the viewer feel during the film and after the credits roll. That feeling is needing a long shower to work it all out.  Not as long as a shower as a Lars Von Trier film, but dammit if Mother! doesn’t come close. Think Requiem was too far, too out there, too depressing? Just wait for Mother!.

Mother! is a phantasmagorical fever nightmare of a film. Comfort is rarely given to the viewer, and poor Jennifer Lawrence. From an opening “what the hell?” sequence to jumping right into the world at large for Lawrence, all are instantly set at unease. Only for a few brief moments later does the film give a moment of solid footing, but it doesn’t last. This is not a detriment. Instead, it gives the film with a continual feeling of dread and unsettling as layer upon layer of discomfort is placed on Lawrence pushing both her and the viewer underwater as it gets more out of control and runs full on into confusion and uncomfortable. Every time she and the viewer think “I’ve got this,” prepare to go yet another step out.

 In many ways, the film feels like an alternative ghost story, the way characters and moments flick and flitter in and out of the narrative. In other stories or less capable hands, these sudden shifts, nearly always lacking the context and knowledge given in a standard tale, would lead to a “wait, what? hold on now;” with Aronofsky, it leads to a “wait, what? Keep going.” The dreamscape is spellbinding. 

Lawrence again proves herself to be one of the strongest performers of her generation (let’s ignore X-Men: Apocalypse shall we?), effectively sharing and shouldering the claustrophobic anxiety drenched emotions of the audience. She’s in all but the smallest handfuls of scenes. This is her film through and through, despite the appearances of other nearly-always great actors, both of the A-list and character variety. Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, the vastly underrated Stephen McHattie and others all do their parts to ruin the audience.   To talk about why any further would ruin the moments, so let’s leave it there.

Mother! is anxiety over losing control. It’s claustrophobic leaving comfort spaces even as they become uncomfortable, yet with no escape. The whole of the film takes place within the house with the exception of two shots. These two shots are so jarring, and meant to be, it’s a shock amongst others. Mother! is many other ideas, themes, and meanings. So drenched in metaphor is Mother! it no doubt be discussed by film people for a long time coming. But first, go visit Mother! to feel uncomfortable, and then let’s talk it out.

Grade: A

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