Darren Aronofsky has become a stalwart of complex themes bursting at subconscious seams with metaphor and symbolism throughout his impressive career. His darkly brutal handling of vivid despondency and ardent intentions has made his voice one of the most uniquely inspiring and eclectic in contemporary film. mother! has seemingly hit a crescendo of its director’s now-iconic stylization; blending elements from all of his previous works into a cacophony of screaming nerves and bleeding hearts. Multiple viewings and discussions of the feature may not be enough to parse the wellspring of sentiment and allusion that Aronofsky and company manages to evoke.
The daily life of Him (Javier Bardem, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”) and Mother (Jennifer Lawrence, “Passengers”) inside their secluded home acts as the central focal point. Bardem is an acclaimed poet struggling with writer’s block, and Lawrence (as his wife) is in the process of meticulously reconstructing his previous home room by room, doting on him as she also evidently idolizes his work to a degree. When an uninvited man (Ed Harris, “Run All Night”) and his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer, “Dark Shadows”) arrive at their home, their pacific life is flipped on its ear in starkly barbarous fashion. Though this plot setup has been played before (“Straw Dogs,” “House on the Edge of the Park”), this is where the expected comes to an end. The film dives headfirst into possible themes and archetypes that could be critical of religious dogma, the creative process, the ideals of motherhood and parenting, the dangers in repressing desire, even a revision on creation itself. Though it is is imperative you should never overthink a film, it is just as damaging to underthink it. mother! abounds in insinuations that are impossible to ignore; not necessarily for the tropes picked, but for the way they are brought to task.
Relying on half-hearted horror tropes and tepid jump scares to unseat expectations throughout the first act, it quickly evolves into a different beast altogether. The always-impressive cinematography by Aronofsky’s career-long director of photography Matthew Libatique is taut and unrelenting — slowly turning from long sweeping takes to live in insular claustrophobia. This switch easily represents the ever-increasing unhinging of Mother, complimenting her character’s mental digression perfectly. Though the filmmakers use many visual techniques, edits and imagery almost directly lifted from “Black Swan” and “The Fountain,” the movie remains fresh in its bold use of multilayered diegetic and manipulated sound. Though Aronofsky’s brilliant sound designer Brian Emrich was absent from this film (from “Noah” as well), his influences are felt as Craig Henighan (“Deadpool”) constructs an auditory nightmare overflowing with rich hand-wringing tension.
Though the film has been classified as a horror; it really isn’t one. Just as with “Black Swan,” it seems that Aronofsky’s idea of horror isn’t through a direct attempt at scaring audiences through shock, but in the confusion and desperation of his protagonists in dire situations. The terror is the result of what isn’t understood and how the mind processes that incertitude, always compounded by questions that can not necessarily be answered. The ambiguity of the audio-visual assault editor Andrew Weisblum (“Moonrise Kingdom”) builds oozes with edginess and exhaustion than continually mounts with no reprieve. Perturbation evolves alongside pitch-black humor and off-the-wall incredulousness till the resulting trepidation is so intense that it bursts violently through the final moments of the work. And at the end of it all, nothing is certain or necessarily solved, which results in the film working as an effective and paralyzing experience.
Already the boiling subject of a fire-hot debate of its strategies and motifs (and rightfully so), there is nothing clean-cut about Aronofsky’s latest outing. It possesses such a raw nervousness and blistering suspense that it will undoubtedly (and continually) coax out exceptional discomfort in those who take the trip. It does not equal the same utter hopelessness and abject sorrow of the third act from “Requiem for a Dream,” but mirrors its rising tension and emotional resonance so effectively, that the result is yet another cerebral cinematic roundhouse. mother! is a haunting, enigmatic and divisive piece that should, and will, be studied long into the future for its formidable explorations in craft, narrative and overall direction.