Once I stumbled upon 2008’s “The Wrestler,” I became interested in Darren Aronofsky’s work. While I haven’t seen the entirety of his current filmography (I still really need to see “The Fountain” though not too excited about “Noah” ), what I did see was a lot bleaker and disturbing than I initially expected.
The man who was originally supposed to direct 2013’s “The Wolverine” created a career off of films dealing with the darkness of addiction, the struggles of retirement, mortality, the tragedy of obsession and whatever his directorial debut “Pi” is about. Not exactly a career filled with feel-good films. In any case, despite having a few bumps on the road, his latest film, “mother!,” seems to bring back what made his early work so good. Is it that good? Well … if you consider absolute insanity a good thing, I would think so.
Let’s start with the film’s premise. Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem are a married couple living in the middle of nowhere. Bardem is a poet stricken with writer’s block while Lawrence is the bored yet supportive housewife, keeping herself busy by renovating their fixer upper of a house. However, everything begins to change when a stranger (played by Ed Harris) shows up at their doorstep. That’s all I’m going to tell you because the film only gets weirder, sadder and crazier from there. I will warn you though: As a viewer, you need to understand that this film should not always be taken literally. While it may seem like it deals with too many ideas in two hours, it dives into such chaotic and dark places that it might stress you out if you try to ground it to reality in any way. My advice: Let the insanity take you away. While the pacing does sag a little in the middle, Aronofsky’s directing keeps the story from ever getting boring throughout its entire running time.
Now with that out of the way, let’s talk about the performances. Lawrence does a great job in this film. It’s actually my second favorite performance of hers. She’s an actress that has had to overcome two things over the years: her looks and her over-saturation. Despite being a great actress, her looks can sometimes get in the way of playing more mature roles, like her role in “American Hustle.” She’s also all over the place, leading to a lot of people kind of getting sick of her / having a hard time seeing her portray someone that isn’t Mystique or Katniss Everdeen. Thankfully, that’s not the case with this film. Her baby face perfectly fits her character’s mousy and submissive personality. Plus, she puts a phenomenal amount of emotional and physical effort into this role, creating a character that is incredibly tragic to watch fall into this insane rabbit hole.
She also complements Bardem’s character, who is charismatic, interesting and sociable. The acting in this film is odd yet really well done overall. Others have likened the acting to something out of a David Lynch film and they’re right: the actors’ odd speech patterns, weird facial expressions and out-of-place responses feel like something out of “Twin Peaks,” which I absolutely loved.
In terms of the technical aspects of film, I think the film is visually engaging and well put-together. The film does a great job mixing practical and CG effects well, creating a film that really pulls you in even when you know what you’re looking at isn’t entirely real. The set design and cinematography are great as well. The film definitely feels like an idea that would’ve work in the ’60s and ’70s, creating an aesthetic that actually goes out of its way to leave modern technology out of it. This creates a timeless feel, almost as if you’re stuck in a dream that you can never leave. As the film progresses to its finale, you start to realize that that timeless feeling can be used as both a blessing and a curse, especially when it comes to the more visceral and graphic scenarios in the film.
In the end, “mother!” is one of the very few films that I have to put an asterisk next to when I say that I loved it. Besides some sluggish pacing, and some small questions I have pertaining to the plot, this was one of the most intense and stressful experiences I’ve had in a theater in a while. Its great performances, wonderful technical work and dedication to the chaos creates a horror film that I cannot believe a studio actually decided to distribute as a wide release. If this all sounds like something you’d see in a theater, I highly recommend seeing it at full price. Aronofsky has proven to me time and time again that while I am definitely cautious about rewatching his films, I’m certainly optimistic about what mad idea he’s got planned for the future.