The first thing you need to know about mother! is that, if you plan to see it, you’re going to have to put in some effort. The narrative is confusing, the themes are deep and profound, but a little bit tough to reach, the characters don’t even get names, and you’re likely going to leave the cinema with a “what just happened?” feeling. This is a film that is hard to get out of your mind, and if you’re willing to put in the work afterward to try to understand it, you’ll be rewarded. If you aren’t, look elsewhere.
mother! is about a woman (Jennifer Lawrence) and a man (Javier Bardem), a married couple who live in a secluded house in the country. She has spent an indiscernible amount of time fixing up the house after it was severely damaged by a fire, while he’s a poet—and a relatively famous one at that, we eventually learn. They’re happy. They will not remain so. To say anything else about the plot—even though more details are revealed in the trailer—would be a betrayal to the movie. Trust me: you want to go in as blind as possible.
The camera, for the vast majority of the picture, is focused on Jennifer Lawrence. As she walks around the house, we zoom in on her face, which is often filled with confusion, disapproval, or paranoia. mother! has been directed by Darren Aronofsky, who often features characters who become less and less sure of whether everyone around them is acting weird, or if they’re the ones going crazy. This is no different. Everyone else seems to be acting “off.” Lawrence’s character has hallucinations—or are they?—and panic attacks that she staves off with medication. And that’s before anything particularly weird happens.
The movie devolves into something that no longer functions based on real-world logic. Its final third contains visuals that one would ordinarily only see in a nightmare. But among all of its craziness is a thematic depth that allows mother! to elevate itself above being just a good horror-thriller.
mother! is going to be one of the movies we’re still talking about for years to come.
But make no mistake. Even without being “about” something bigger than itself—and we’ll get to what that is in a second—mother! is still a solid movie. Everyone can relate to what its central character goes through in its literal plot. Her struggles are relatable, and Aronofsky knows how to generate tension, suspense, and atmosphere from the smallest of things. The cinematography gives us a feeling of claustrophobia, the performances of the two leads are incredible and, while it has a slow build in its first half, it never gets dull enough to lose our attention. It does get really hard to watch, at times, but there’s where your horror comes into play.
Where it loses its audience is in its final third, which is the point at which its literal plot and allegorical plot start to cross over. mother! features a lot of symbolism, and if you don’t quite “get” what it’s trying to do, it’s going to be a struggle once the symbolism takes center stage. The film can be viewed as a biblical allegory, an environmentalist film, Aronofsky trying to work through his (past and present) personal relationships, the nature of fame and creation, the societal pressure on men and (particularly) women—and, honestly, probably more than all that. It’s a dense film.
But it’s the biblical allegory that’s going to be the most confusing, particularly to viewers who aren’t that familiar with the Good Book. It gets really, really weird even if you do know what it’s trying to do. But that it manages to be about all of these things, and do it all in a relatively coherent—confusing, at times, but cohesive and consistent—narrative is the work of greatness. And mother! is great.
Darren Aronofsky has created a fantastic movie in mother!, but it’s only going to show itself as such if you (1) give it a chance and (2) are willing to put in the mental work to figure it out. It’s not obtuse to the point of inaccessibility, and it functions as a good horror-thriller even if you don’t want to look for and figure out its various allegories, metaphors, and symbolism, but it only comes together as a whole if you are willing to think about it for some time after it ends. With its thematic depth, claustrophobic cinematography, incredible performances, and appreciable atmosphere, mother! is going to be one of the movies we’re still talking about for years to come.
Conclusion: mother! is an incredible movie.
Recommendation: If you’re willing to do some work, mother! will reveal itself as a deep, clever, and great movie.