Mother! – a 2017 American psychological horror film
Article by The Forbes Film Review
Where do I even begin to talk about this movie? It’s been two days since I saw it and my mind is still doing cartwheels. It’s been advised that after seeing this film you take some time to think about it before forming an opinion. I fully agree. After seeing the movie I was left stunned and didn’t know what to think. I usually roll my eyes when I hear/read about people describing watching a film as a ‘physical experience’, but, for reasons I’ll go into later, in this case I can understand why people might say that.
To write a plot summary almost seems unnecessary because what is actually happening on screen is all an allegory for other things. Basically however, we have Mother (Jennifer Lawrence, ‘The Hunger Games’) living in a house with her much older husband, Him (Javier Bardem, ‘No Country for Old Men’). He’s a poet with writers block and she’s busy turning the house into a paradise. One night Man (Ed Harris, ‘Apollo 13’) turns up at the door thinking it’s a B & B. To Mother’s shock, Him invites Man to stay the night. Later, Man’s wife, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer, ‘Dangerous Minds’) turns up out of the blue. Something strange is clearly going on, but it’s not clear what just yet. From this point onwards the film gradually increases the intensity as more and more people come to the house and Mother is not amused. Him on the other hand embraces the visitors
What you see in this film should not be considered as literal, but interpreted as symbolism with a variety of meanings. I know that I’ve probably already lost a few of you and I understand. Usually I’m the one who reads about these arty movies and I shake my head at the pretentiousness. For some reason however this one grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. In fact as the movie progressed its hold on me only continued to tighten.
The director, Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), is a not an easy person to like in my opinion. His film-making style is unconventional; but it’s his narcissistic arrogance that I hate. He makes a lot of films that people either love or hate, and the fact that some people describe his movies as masterpieces has quite clearly gone to his head. That’s the impression I get anyway. It would be so easy for me to do what many others have done and rip mother! to shreds as an absurd, self-indulgent piece of nonsense; but I can’t. I didn’t think it was a bad film at all. I actually think I quite liked it.
At this point I’d like to warn anyone who has yet to see the movie that I’m away to discuss what I thought the movie meant. If you don’t want to know anything before viewing that’s completely understandable. You can come back to read the rest of my review after you’ve seen the film to see if you share my thoughts or have your own ideas.
One of the film’s main strengths is the performances of its main actors. So let’s go through them. The heart and soul of the movie is Jennifer Lawrence, who is at the centre of everything we see. I believe about 60-65% of the film is on her face; with most of the rest of it either over her shoulder or seeing things through her eyes. Her character has to go through so much and she’s unable to do much to stop things from falling apart. The inner pain and suffering Mother is going through throughout the movie is evident from Lawrence’s facial expressions and the way she holds herself. The subtle ways she reacts to Javier Bardem’s actions is brilliant; and the way she acts so innocent makes us care for her deeply and what she has to go through. It’s a stunning performance that has a strong shot at resulting in another Best Actress nomination.
Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) is pretty good. His character is extremely unlikable. He’s misogynistic and completely disregarding of his wife’s feelings or opinions. This supporting role only makes us feel more strongly for the Mother character.
Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer I thought came into the story with an air of mystery and threat. Harris seems like he could be just a passer-by that has confused the house with a B & B. It’s when Pfeiffer arrives that things really begin to feel uncomfortable. She asks really inappropriate questions and acts in such a disrespectful manner. Harris was good but Pfeiffer was fantastic. She’d be and outside bet for a Supporting Actress nomination, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
In my opinion, Mother, Him, Man and Woman respectively represent Mother Earth, God, Adam and Eve. After I’d had time to think I realised that the first half of the movie was a retelling of the story of Genesis from The Bible. I won’t to go into specific details, but I have to say that when the pieces all clicked into place in my head it was very satisfying.
The house itself could arguably be regarded as a character. Staying with the Genesis theme, the house, which has its own heart beat, could perhaps be Eden. We know that Mother has been redecorating it and went the house is threatened in the movie’s second half Mother gets very distressed. It could also be argued that the house represents the planet Earth; and it’s possible that when the house is threatened, that can be interpreted from an environmentalist perspective as Earth being under threat from humans disrespecting the planet. There are so many ways so many parts of this movie can be interpreted by different people.
If the first half of the film was really about the story of Genesis, then the second half brings us into The New Testament. It’s really difficult to talk about the second half of this movie because so much happens and it’s not pleasant to watch. It’s very easy to get confused (or even offended) by what’s happening and I’m sure there are so many things I missed. I’m trying hard to explain my thoughts without giving away too much.
In this second half everything goes crazy. When I said in my intro about the film being a ‘physical experience’ this is where that happens. I was left in awe at what transpired; and would hate to be inside the messed up head of Arokofsky. It was such a visceral experience with so much disturbing imagery. I was shaking with adrenaline by the time the credits began to roll.
I think for me that second half is so intense and so much happens that’s it’s not as easy to interpret everything that’s going on; and I wouldn’t want to spoil too much of the details anyway. What I did pick up on however were elements of the Messiah and The Last Supper. The most visually disturbing film I’ve seen so far this year has been ‘Raw’, but this is a close 2nd. Some of the images from this movie will be in my head for a long time.
This has been one of my longest reviews so I’m sorry about that. There’s just so much to talk about with this movie. Love it or hate it, mother! is a film everyone is talking about right now. Over the past couple of days I think I’ve come to understand more of what the film was about. The question of whether I actually liked it however is a question I’m still not exactly sure of. Like ‘Swiss Army Man’, it’s a bizarre film which on any given day I could feel any number of ways about depending on my mood that day. As things stand I think I really liked it; and despite my dislike of the director I admire that he has created an interesting, thought-provoking movie that has got people debating.
Over time my opinion (and rating) of mother! may change, but for now it’s a movie I’d highly recommend everyone sees, as it’s a cinematic experience like you’ve never had before.