Few filmmakers today inspire as much excitement and ire as Darren Aronofsky. While he has some sure fire masterpieces such as Requiem For a Dream, most of his movies have been received with a stark division between love and hate. His last film in particular Noah (his bizarre take on biblical storytelling), could be seen on as many best of lists as worst of.
Aronofsky’s divisive streak continues with Mother!, which is sure to go down as one of the most discussed films of the year. While there isn’t much of a narrative here, the vague premise follows a couple whose relationship is put to the test when strangers show up to admire the work of the husband.
Mother! may not be quite as substantial as it thinks it is, but its a boldly visceral and impressive technical achievement. It is also perhaps the most oft-kilter wide release in quite sometime, and is sure to inspire a great deal of division.
Performance-wise, Aronofsky is able to pull the best out of this talented cast. This may just be Jennifer Lawrence best performance yet, commanding the screen by delivering her horrified character to life. She is endlessly captivating, delivering an intense performance that packs a lot of depth under the surface. It certainly helps when the supporting cast features so many talented actors, with Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Burns, and several other talented stars lending their ability to help the film.
Like so many auteurs, Aronofsky executes his bold vision with an impressive level of technical skill. Working alongside his usual collaborators in Cinematographer Matthew Libatique and Composer Johann Johannsson, Aronofsky creates a film that is impressively visceral even during quieter moments. His ability to ratchet up feelings of anxiety through slight sounds and intense camera work is nothing short of masterful. The much-discussed final third of this film is shockingly intense, and there is a certain excitement to being able to see visuals and ideas that are completely original onscreen. Its truly a widely entertaining film, one that will its audience gasping for air by the final third.
As always with an Aronofsky film, there is a lot of subtext under the surface. Some of the film’s themes work better than others, but there is a lot of ideas that the audience can grasp to. What I found particularly effective is Aronofsky’s examination of the treatment of women in today’s society, as well as the natural egoism of man. There are also some thoughtful statements on the selfishness of the creative process.
Part of this film’s problem however is that its just too ambitious. While some of the the subtext works, many of the themes left me feeling cold. Aronofsky loves to have biblical concepts in his films, but I found the execution of them here being a bit too overt. The same could be said about the film’s general thematic ideas about the disastrous state of the world we live in, which while executed with visual flair, doesn’t prove to be all that effective. There is some substance here for sure, but the film certainly thinks its more substantial and effective than it appears to be. Pretentious is an over-used term to describe an auteur’s ambition, but I can understand critics who will put that label on Aronofsky.
Mother! is a true original, bolstered by great performances and the technical accomplishments of Aronofsky. He may not have perfectly execute his vision, but boy is it fun to see him try.