It’s not a mainstream thriller; it’s a violent allegory.
This post contains spoilers.
If you go into mother! aware of director Darren Aronofsky’s body of work, you know to an extent what to expect. This is the guy who brought you Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream. If you go into it a Jennifer Lawrence fan excited for her latest thriller — “It’s about a husband and wife whose house gets mysteriously invaded by strangers!” — you might have been confused, disturbed, and ultimately disgusted. By the third act of the movie, Lawrence’s baby gets eaten.
Let’s back up. As promised in the trailer, the movie does follow a husband and wife (Javier Bardem and Lawrence). He’s a poet, she’s a supportive partner keeping busy with home renovations. (The house was previously ravaged by a fire, which you see at the start of the movie.) One day, a man (Ed Harris) shows up uninvited; Bardem’s character is delighted, Lawrence’s not so much. The stranger smokes in the house despite being asked not to. He drinks too much and gets sick.
Enter Michelle Pfeiffer’s character, Harris’s wife, who appears the following morning. (The characters don’t have names; they are listed on IMDB as “Man,” “Woman,” “Him,” etc. For clarity, I’ll refer to them by their real-life surnames.) Pfeiffer leaves a wreck in the kitchen, brings her dirty laundry into the basement, and breaks a very important rock in Bardem’s study. The messes are multiplying, the tension is building.
Then the strangers’ sons show up and start fighting. One brother bashes in the other brother’s head, and Lawrence has to clean up the bloody mess on her own because Bardem leaves to help Harris and Pfeiffer transport their dying son. Lawrence mops up the blood and eventually goes to bed thinking the worst is over. But it’s not: Dozens of people arrive to mourn the dead son — and further trash the home. A water pipe bursts and Lawrence finally kicks everyone out. She and Bardem have sex and the following morning she announces she’s pregnant. Cut to her swollen belly and a once again clean home. (It’s as weird to watch as it is to read about.)
The respite is brief. Bardem, who had been struggling with writer’s block, finally completes a new poem. It’s a hit, which precipitates the arrival of dozens, then hundreds, then who knows how many people — reporters, fans, worshipers. It’s a loud, violent third act that shows Lawrence getting assaulted, giving birth, and, again, a baby getting eaten. If unsuspecting moviegoers weren’t already horrified, they were now.
There can be many readings to any movie, but the most prominent reading of this one — and the one that Aronofsky himself has spoken about — is that it’s an allegory about mankind and the destruction of the environment. It seems as if Bardem is God (there are also religious references throughout); Lawrence is Mother Earth; and everyone who shows up uninvited and ready to ruin everything is mankind. (Here is a useful explainer.) If you watch the movie with that message in mind, it’s thought-provoking if not your cup of tea. But if you go in totally blind, you might just feel grossed out an annoyed. Two free hours are hard to come by, after all.
Aronofsky warned audiences. He told Vulture, for example, that he wanted them to be “prepped that it’s a very intense ride … Most people, after they see the film, they don’t even wanna look at me.” But that sort of information doesn’t always reach moviegoers. CinemaScore, the poll-based website that measures a movie’s audience appeal, gave the movie an F. According to the critics consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, where the movie is currently 69 percent fresh, “There’s no denying that mother! is the thought-provoking product of a singularly ambitious artistic vision, though it may be too unwieldy for mainstream tastes.” As the woman sitting next to me at a Saturday afternoon screening put it: “I want my boyfriend’s money back.”
By: Patti Greco
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