Movie Review: Mother!

Jennifer Lawrence in a misconceived horror pic from Darren Aronofsky.

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(Movie review = spoilers)

Mother! Is a horror movie with a shadow agenda—which is a problem, I think. The picture's most effective horror elements are unusually potent; they stir a sense of intimate violation that's uncomfortable to process. And toward the end, writer-director Darren Aronofsky, redlining the WTF meter, whips up a couple of scenes that may strike some viewers as going way too far in a direction they'd rather not follow.

However, it's hard to get too exercised about the movie's escalating terrors, since they're not happening to believable characters. The people we see here are participants in an allegory, bloodless puppets whose every action scores points in a larger, encompassing narrative. They have no backstories or human textures, and since their fates are shaped by Aronofsky's laborious authorial design, it's hard to care about them, or about the story in which they've been positioned. This leaves us with little more to contemplate than the movie's thick Biblical underbrush, its familiar environmental messaging, and its escalating surges of noise and nastiness. Also the elements it has appropriated from Rosemary's Baby, Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel, and the well-known world of David Lynch (clanking, raspy sound design, pulsing fetal visions).

Nobody in this movie has a real-world name. Jennifer Lawrence is "Mother"; Javier Bardem is her poet husband, "Him." They live in a big old country house built on the site of Him's previous big old country house, which burned down, destroying all that he had except a mysterious crystal, which he now keeps on a little display stand in his home office. (I never figured out what this thing was supposed to symbolize; I was too busy trying to figure out what the orange powder was that Mother mixed into the glasses of water she kept drinking.)

Since this is a religious allegory, we are invited to wring meaning from the fact that Him's house is situated way out in the middle of nowhere, with no neighbors or apparent means of egress. What planet does this remind you of? And while Mother treats Him with nothing but adoration, Him is coldly abrupt with her. He tells her he loves her—sure, sure—but in fact he is essentially indifferent to her and her concerns. What noted old-school deity does Him remind you of?

While Mother goes about fixing up the new house—she wants to turn it into a "paradise," she says—Him struggles with an epic case of writer's block. Why can't he create anything new?

Then one night a knock at the door. It's a man (Ed Harris) who claims to be a doctor and says he's a big fan of Him's poetry. Him invites this fellow in to spend the night. And when his pushy wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) barges in the following day, Him invites her to stay, too. Next come this couple's two grown sons (Cain and Abel figures played by Domhnall Gleeson and his own brother, Brian). Soon there's shouting and fighting and a puddle of blood burning a vagina-shaped hole in the floor and flowing down into the basement—a dark and gloomy place lit only by the flare of the boiler fire. (What district of the damned does this remind you of? Also: Why do we need to be reminded of it?)

More and more of Him's worshipful readers keep arriving, and he continues inviting them inside. (This is a guy who loves nothing more than being adored.) Soon the clamorous interlopers are making a mess of Mother's paradise. Terrible things begin to happen, and the movie keeps piling them on. The story doesn't evolve, it just proceeds. From a filmmaker of Aronofsky's long-demonstrated gifts, you might expect more than this live-action sermon, as vibrantly shot and tautly edited as it is. (At least there's no outright praying. At the screening I attended, little cards were passed out bearing something called "mother's prayer," the opening line of which—"our mother who art underfoot" – was most unfortunate.)

Throughout much of the movie, Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Wrestler) and his longtime cinematographer Matthew Libatique keep their camera locked into obsessive closeups of Lawrence's face as she makes her way around the big house, dealing with one crisis after another. This strategy—which enables the smooth introduction of occasional shock reveals—becomes oppressive. Lawrence is an actor of superb expressive instincts, but here, playing an almost completely passive character, she's given virtually nothing to express beyond mounting panic. (Well, at least until the end, when she's encouraged to go nutso along with the rest of the movie.) This is a terrible waste.

Mostly, though, it's too bad that Aronofsky felt compelled to churn out this fright-flick/message-movie mashup instead of the full-bore, skull-crushing, straight-on horror film that he could surely write and deliver. Maybe someday. This one definitely isn't it.

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69 responses to “Movie Review: Mother!

  1. All of his movies are anti-biblical satirical screeds. He is very angry at G-d, perhaps because he thinks G-d was angry at him. I’m not a fan, though I enjoyed Noah.

    1. I really enjoyed that snuff movie, you know the one where they took two hours to torture and kill that guy, what was that film called?

      Oh I remember now it was called The Passion of the Christ.

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  2. All we asked was to see Jennifer Lawrence’s insides, Aronofsky. You are officially less useful than 4chan.

  3. I’m a proud Christian and don’t think my faith will die due to bad mockery…but it gets old when you know there is no other faith they’d mock. It makes the more militant members of my faith believe that violence is the path to respect. And I cannot argue that they are wrong.

    1. They only mock out of cowardice and lack of creativity. It never bothers me. I find it sad mostly. Is there any more stale or overdone joke than making fun of Christians? They all think of themselves as being subversive and then immediately produce the most trite and least subversive art possible.

      1. Life of Brian was very creative and brave.

        1. That was nearly 40 years ago. If you are still doing the same jokes from 40 years ago, you need a new act. Life of Brian is as old today as the Marx Brothers were when it was made.

          1. To be fair, the Nazarene cult of the YHWH myth have been working the same tired schtick for ~2000 years. At this point the idea of the eminent return of 1/3 of YHWH to rule us all is, well, trite.

            1. Truth has a bad habit of not going away. That doesn’t make lampooning Christians any less played out today. Life of Brian was a funny movie or at least it had some very funny parts. I can only take Monty Python in small doses. Not only is the things being done today less clever, it is also no longer cutting edge or in any way subversive the way that movie was.

              1. Saved is funny. So is Dogma.

              2. That’s about what you’d expect after 2 millennia, no? I doubt there are many new Nazarene art projects that are breaking ground in understanding why your mythology is more believable than Islam or Mormonism or Scientology.

                1. Yeah, the current state of Christian art is terrible. But it had a 1900 year run. It has the Sisten Chapple and Bach and a lot more. Have fun with life of Brian.

              3. Lampooning would be played if myth believers and their hangers-on weren’t active in the world doing and saying lampoonable stuff.

                1. The fact that you like the message doesn’t make it any more funny or interested.

                2. The fact that you like the message doesn’t make it any more funny or interested.

                3. The believers, though, are “lampooned” simply because we won’t kill lampooners. These same “courageous” folks won’t even show an image of Mohammad because THOSE “hangers on” will kill others, so their excesses get excused incessantly.

                  1. “The believers, though, are “lampooned” simply because we won’t kill lampooners.”

                    Riiight. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

                    “…their excesses get excused incessantly.” and “‘courageous’ folks won’t even show an image of Mohammad”

                    Fuck off liar.

                    1. What year was the Spanish Inquisition? Do you have an example from this millennium?
                      Piss poor attempt at moral equivalence.

                  2. It certainly worked on Charlie Hepdo. They lay off Islam now.

                4. if myth believers and their hangers-on weren’t active in the world doing and saying lampoonable stuff.

                  Lampoonable yes, but also highly ignorable. There are myth believers and hangers-on in so many other movements today endeavoring to deprive me of my liberty and self-determination. They should be loudly mocked and instead are lionized.

          2. Yeah, but “The Haggle” is still one of the great scenes of all time

        2. And Life of Brian made fun of a lot of people, not just Christians. It wasn’t really a polemic as much as a satire of the entire human race.

          1. Indeed. Monty Python said that there wasn’t much about Jesus teachings to really make fun of. It was more of a spoof of fundamentalism than anything else.

            And, keep in mind, the movie would be verboten now because it mocks “transgenderism”.
            Christians didn’t seek to ban it in the 1970s. Progs would do so today.

            1. Christians didn’t seek to ban it in the 1970s.

              That’s not entirely true. It was actually banned in a number of places.

              1. In the US, not so much. I don’t deny it was banned in multiple places in Europe, but everything is banned in multiple places in Europe.

                Some religious groups didn’t like it and wanted it banned, but it was not done here.

                Which would be a shame, as it is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen and was actually quite reverential to Jesus.

              2. Some places, however, in my Jesuit run High School the A/V teacher had a “Life of Brian” poster in his classroom.

    2. don’t think my faith will die due to bad mockery

      Wouldn’t be much of a faith if it did. I’m not a religious believer in any way, but I agree it gets tiresome when Christianity is treated as if it’s some uniquely horrible or ridiculous thing. No major religion’s hands are clean, least of all the other big one in the world.

      I think it’s sort of a weird inversion of tribalism where people are more comfortable mocking and criticizing their own culture than that of others.

      I’ll make fun of religion in the right time and place because it all just seems absurd to me. But I try not to be a dick about it and I have no desire to convince religious people that they are wrong.

      1. Wouldn’t be much of a faith if it did. I’m not a religious believer in any way, but I agree it gets tiresome when Christianity is treated as if it’s some uniquely horrible or ridiculous thing. No major religion’s hands are clean, least of all the other big one in the world.

        I’d argue Christianity has cleaner hands than any other religion, save perhaps Judaism.

        Christianty’s biggest “sin”, the Crusades, were defensive in nature. Christians were the driving force in the abolitionist movement. Is the faith perfect? Fuck no. But to judge it by standards nothing else in the world is judged by is absurd.

        1. It fails the most important standard. There is no evidence that any of it true. The Nazarene cult isn’t unique in this failure. Get in line behind every other faith when it comes to the most important question, is it true?

          Note, simply declaring your faith to be eternal truth is not persuasive, but it is laughable.

          1. That is why it is a faith. I don’t claim scientific evidence of God. I also do not feel any compulsion to acquire scientific knowledge of God.

            1. There it is. Willful ignorance. Is it permissible to lampoon that?

              1. Willful ignorance? We don’t have any concrete answers on the creation of Everything (what caused the big bang as SOMETHING had to trigger it?). My view that the Christian story of creation works great with evolutionary theory (the Bible is why, evolution is how) has just as much legitimacy behind it as anything else.

                You can call it as you wish. You’re no more accurate than I am, however.

                1. God of the gaps much? Your expressed view looks more like bibliolatry than a reasoned cosmological hypothesis. The reasonable legitimacy of your view has been destroyed repeatedly. You can call it what you wish, myth is myth.

                  1. I’m quite baffles as to why my conclusions threaten you so.

                    Note that I haven’t asked your opinion as it truly means nothing to me. You can believe whatever you want. No skin off my back. But, wow, you don’t like others believing differently from you.

                    1. Going to have to disagree with you there damikesc. There’s actually plenty of evidence of Christianity’s truth, though granted it’s only circumstantial when it comes to science.

                      The New Testament, examined as an ancient account, passes the various tests with flying colors, such as the bibliographical test.

                    2. It likely has. But I’ve honestly not had a desire to check.

        2. I’d argue Christianity has cleaner hands than any other religion, save perhaps Judaism.

          I’d say Jainism probably wins the cleanest hands prize.

          I think I agree that on balance Christianity has been more good than bad, but let’s not forget that Christians also have a long history of killing people for believing the wrong things. But to their credit, Christians have for the most part left that sort of thing behind.

          1. There is one that wants to get its hands as dirty as possible. Can you guess which one it is?

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_Euthanasia

            1. Awesome! Now I won’t have to visit Pornhub for weeks!

        3. Cleaner hands than Buddhism? How so?

          1. Buddhism is not particularly clean historically. I don’t know how we judge one religions purity versus another and so I attempt no comparison, but they aren’t particularly peaceful.

            Hell, they are committing a Buddhist run genocide of Christians and Muslims in Myanmar right now.

        4. The Crusades were a counter offensive, and a temporary one at that (the Ottoman’s would conquer much of southeastern Europe in the ensuing centuries). But most critics of the Crusades don’t seem to want to talk much about the centuries of Muslim expansion and conquest against Christian peoples prior to the Crusades.

          1. Or after, for that matter

      2. I think it’s sort of a weird inversion of tribalism where people are more comfortable mocking and criticizing their own culture than that of others.

        No it’s not. It makes perfect sense you’d find fun, satire and sarcasm in the things you know best. I’m sure the Germans have a sense of humor but I’m not aware of it. And why? Because I don’t think as a German does. Every culture has an innate set of ideas, expectations and modes of behavior. Members of that culture almost instinctively know when something is amiss and deserves comment or ridicule. But try that with another culture, and unless it’s regarding only the most superficial aspects of it, you’ll look at best ignorant, at worst a boorish fool.

  4. You could have just said it’ll be in the Red Box in a few weeks.

  5. I’m also pretty fucking over Lawrence. She’s just an attractive Lena Dunham.

    1. And she is not even that attractive. She has an absolute killer body. There is no denying that. But she really isn’t that pretty. She is basically a butter face. And I have yet to figure out why anyone thinks she can act. I have never seen her give a believable emotion on screen. She forever comes across as disinterested and bored by being on screen.

      1. She has a great body and a cute face when her hair is dark (as in Hunger Games). Blond hair does nothing for her, although that seems to be her preferred look.

        As for her acting, I realized she was is actually very good when I saw “American Hustle.” She disappears into that role where you almost don’t recognize her. That’s something very few actors can pull off, in my experience. Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey are among the few that immediately come to mind.

        1. In fairness I have not seen that movie. So, maybe she shows something in it she hasn’t in other films. And you are right, she is cute when she has dark hair. But she isn’t any kind of a classic beauty.

          1. She was chubby in her first movie, Winter’s Bone. You would have liked her in that one.

            1. Winter’s Bone was well done.

        2. I liked her in Easy A

        3. Robert Duvall … from Tom Hagen to Boss Spearman to Mac Sledge to Karl’s father. You see him, you know him, but you are never weighed down by what or who he’s been before.

      2. But compared to Kristen Stewart…

      3. Lawrence is one of those girls with a face that is entirely the victim of her most recent makeup artist.

        With no makeup, she’s a classic Girl Next Door. With good makeup, she’s an Old-Hollywood starlet. With bad or mediocre makeup, she’s Miss Piggy.

  6. I can’t say I’m surprised. I saw a trailer or two that looked confused, and then started to catch indications that this was going to be AN IMPORTANT FILM THAT MUST BE PRAISED. I suppose that sometime, somewhere, there has been an IFTMBP that didn’t stink on ice, but I have yet to see one.

    1. “I suppose that sometime, somewhere, there has been an IFTMBP that didn’t stink on ice, but I have yet to see one.”

      I think just about all the ones I have seen were not given that designation when they were new, but only years later. I’m thinking of classics like “Citizen Kane,” many of Hitchcock’s best movies, Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns, and even recent classics like “The Usual Suspects.” These were mostly getting mixed to negative reviews when they were first released, and it was only years later that critics came around to realizing their value.

      The flip side is, as you point out, that most of the immediately-praised by critics are garbage, or at best, just boring.

      1. My experience also. Now I will say “Usual Suspects” was amazing…but it was that way once. I don’t find it a classic simply because it loses a lot in a second viewing. Ditto Sixth Sense.

        1. I have to disagree. It’s obviously a different experience the second time, as pretty much any movie is, but I don’t think it loses anything but shock value, which is not what makes it a good movie. A good story is good no matter if you know the ending or not. The Sixth Sense was only okay, though I’d figured out the ending before I ever saw it.

  7. The best way to keep Democrats from getting so much in political donations is to avoid giving money to lefty supporters like Jennifer Lawrence.

    1. Sounds like you are saying that there is no good way.

    2. You can always use things like Amazon Fire sticks, jailbreak the hell out of them, and watch her movies for free.

      ….not that I know anybody doing that…

      1. Ain’t that there technically a violation of the NAP?

        {readies C-96 Mauser}

        1. No such thing as IP.

          1. That is… true.

            {lowers C-96}

            BUT, it is still churlish to make use of another’s (in this case, the film production crew’s) labor without reimbursement of one form or another. Read your Rand.

            {raises C-96 once again}

    3. I’m a firm believer that Jennifer Lawrence is super overrated as an actress. I think people like her because they can credibly masturbate to her as an action chick. But I don’t think she is particularly good and the current Hollywood love for her is hype.

  8. Aronofsky’s best film was pi. I haven’t gotten into any of his other films.

    1. Kind of downhill since then, yeah.

      In The Fountain, Aaronofsky at least seems to be saying “Hey look ova heah!! Jugglin’ da shit outta these themes!” Got to appreciate the effort,

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