mother! (2017)


The conceit of the unwanted houseguest is taken to extremes—biblical, allegorical extremes—in Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, mother! (note the exclamation point; the director of Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan is not known for his reserve).
     The story is this [probable spoilers follow]: Javier Bardem is a revered poet with writer’s block. Jennifer Lawrence is his young and dutiful wife. She’s fixing up their magnificent house out in the middle of nowhere while he’s struggling to find the words. One night, Ed Harris shows up, unannounced. He’s an orthopaedic surgeon, apparently, but, more importantly, he’s a fan—the characters in the film are credited as Him and Woman and Younger Brother, etc., so it’s best to stick with the actors’ names here.
     Javier invites Ed to sleep over—”stay as long as you want.” Jen, in close-up, looks puzzled; concerned (this will prove to be her default expression for the next couple of hours). Soon afterwards, Michelle Pfeiffer knocks on the door. “Did you know he had a wife?,” Jen asks Javier. Does it matter? Michelle does not warm to Jen and asks her a lot of personal questions about conception (not necessarily immaculate but that wouldn’t surprise us at this point). Later, Ed and Michelle’s grown sons (the Gleesons, Domhnall and Brian) appear on the doorstep, feuding over the will (turns out Dad’s dying). There’s a scuffle and all of a sudden we’re one brother fewer. It’s then that Jen finally asks them to leave.
     Not to call the cops, take note—nobody ever seems interested in notifying the authorities about the dead body, or how it got there—but just to go. Which they do. But only briefly: they’re back in next to no time, to hold a wake—”They’ve no place else to go,” Javier explains. He really seems to like having people around, fawning over his past brilliance. And Ed’s stories are beginning to inspire him, he claims, starting to get his creative juices flowing. All Jen’s left with at this point is some symbiotic relationship with the house. She touches the walls and a heart pulses deep within the plaster, a fiery furnace blazes in the belly of the basement. Jen gets woozy often, and takes a suspension of yellow powders. And when she finally gets pregnant, things—believe it or not—get even weirder. Frankly, they make the ending of the new Suspiria look like a Quaker Meeting in comparison.
     Yes, mother! is a pretty insane ride (oh to have been a fly on the wall at the pitch meeting for this one) and our emotions are mangled left, right, and center—frustration, anger, incredulity, horror—before everything comes full circle. There’s no denying director Darren is in complete control of his medium, and his performers are more than up to the task of conveying his otherworldly vision, but in the final “what’s it all about?” analysis, mother! feels like the unwieldy product of an unbridled kid in a candy store left to his own devices. Which, with the exception of The Wrestler I suppose, is pretty much what we’ve come to expect.

(c) 2018 David N. Butterworth