“Mother!” Review

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Mother! (2017)

<<<I took care not to reveal any specific spoilers, but some discretion when reading is still advised>>>

Darren Aronofsky’s “Mother!”….I am happy to report that there is no need for some mass panic. “Mother!”  may start slow, but it proves to be a very enjoyable “descent” into sheer madness overall. The initial story here is Him (Javier Bardem) and Her (Jennifer Lawrence) settling into a married life in a country mansion, until one couple (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) become their pestering lodgers against the wishes of Her. Ironically, the main flaw of Aronofsky’s psychological horror film “Mother!” is that it is not his first film. If it were, it would have been a masterpiece of achievement. Instead, “Mother!” is just the “recycling” of the elements/tricks present in Aronofsky’s previous films. How does this affect this film, one may ask? Well, Aronofsky’s “recycling” of his ideas reduces the overall effect, impact and unpredictability of “Mother!” by as much as 80%. “Mother!” formula is quite simple to understand. The film is structurally and archetypically “Black Swan” (2010) + touches of some “over-the-top” home invasion and “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968). This is all to it. And, where it is not all, it also incorporates, quite evidently, Aronofsky’s artful orange-colour bursting creativity and philosophy we have all previously seen in “The Fountain” (2006) and biblical/allegorical references. The saddest thing here is that the film is quite entertaining and even brilliant in parts, and the premise would have been completely unforgettable had Aronofsky been more original in his work.

The film begins by showing Her (the titles call her Mother, but I will refer to her as She) (Jennifer Lawrence) and her husband (Javier Bardem (“Skyfall” (2012)), and their day-to-day life in their country mansion. While the husband struggles to write his novel, She is concerned with decorating their house. Of course, it is fairer to say that “Mother!” really begins by showing the end, but it will probably be saying too much at this point. Bardem character’s most precious possession is a mysterious stone-like object which he keeps in his private room. Things start to really get out of control, when a visitor, a doctor (Ed Harris (A History of Violence (2005)), arrives at their doorstep. Soon, the doctor’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer (“The Age of Innocence” (1993)) follows him to our main couple’s home, and things really start to get uncomfortable and spooky at their house. Now, there are a number of elements at play here: the “external” threat/danger, the “internal” threat and the focus on the relationship between the main characters. The “external” threat is the visitors which arrive to stay at the writer’s home. They start to probe the family’s affairs, and unsettle Her in particular. The “internal” threat is the fantasy element deriving from the house itself. Putting aside any biblical and symbolic meanings, this first half of the film is relatively weak and ineffective. It may have been shot by a film student, modestly experimenting with the psychological horror genre. The camera is often positioned at, and looks from Lawrence character’s shoulder, demonstrating the impact of the home invasion as experienced by Her. There are mysterious noises, strange, hallucinatory experiences, blood appearing out of nowhere, and spooky apparitions. However, the main problem here, which Aronofsky failed to consider, is that we, the viewers, after being introduced to “spooky”/unsettling happenings every thirty seconds or so, soon become “immune” to them. By the film’s fifteenth attempt at inducing an internal “omg” cry from the audience, the viewers become desensitised to all the horror, and the film’s attempts here to draw the audience into the film are not really that successful. Most of the tricks employed are predictable and unimaginative, with Mother becoming “too much of a victim” for any real sympathies.

The second part of “Mother!” has some of the most controversial and talked-about sequences. Here, Aronofsky lets his imagination run wild. The sequences are horrific, claustrophobic, very memorable. If there was any audience Aronofsky wanted to target, I was part of it. I previously enjoyed both: Lars von Trier’s artful and horrifying “Antichrist” (2009) and Martin Koolhoven’s heart-and-gut wrenching “Brimstone” (2017). I also loved Aronofsky’s depressing “Requiem for a Dream” (2000), and just could not get enough of his creative force in “The Fountain” (2006). However, with “Mother!”, all is not that simple. Firstly, “Mother!” has such unbelievable sequences, they are downright funny – laugh-out-loud funny, despite all the horror. A satire, an allegory, symbolism…well, perhaps, and, perhaps, Banksy was also an influence. After all, with “Mother!” all is possible. The second problem is that if one has seen Aronofsky’s previous films, there is almost nothing new here to see. In “Mother!”, the philosophical/puzzling elements seem to be taken straight out of Aronofsky’s “The Fountain”; and “Mother!”’s “home invasion” theme is just the replaying (although now on a grand-scale) of one of the final key scenes of Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream”. The similarities between these two films and “Mother!” are overwhelming, from drugs references and a merciless descent into sheer despair/madness present in both “Mother!” and “Requiem for a Dream”, to the focus on the colour orange present in both “The Fountain” and in “Mother!”.

Regarding the similarities between Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” and “Mother!”, it is safe to say that I can probably write a thick book on it. Aronofsky said that he wrote his draft script to “Mother!” in only five days, and I am surprised how he did not write his screenplay in only thirty minutes. Structurally and archetypically, “Mother! isBlack Swan”, and, of course, “Black Swan”, in turn, “drew inspiration” from “Repulsion” (1965) and “Perfect Blue” (1997). In “Mother!”, the character of Lawrence is Nina Sayers from “Black Swan”. Both characters are true innocent victims, with the cameras in both films often closing up on their faces to show the horrors they are living through. Jennifer Lawrence even has the same mannerism and demeanour as Natalie Portman in “Black Swan”. If Nina in “Black Swan” undergoes transformation herself, in “Mother!”, it is the house which undergoes the transformation. Moreover, Javier Bardem in “Mother!” seems to play the role of Thomas Leroy from “Black Swan”. In both films, Bardem and Cassel play characters that are much older than the main innocent heroines, and both of them try to protect the younger heroines who are battling internal and external dangers. Such similarities seem endless and overwhelming, and they also include some particular scenes (for example, the scenes involving blood/wounds/toilets). Other clear “inspirations” of “Mother!” include “Rosemary’s Baby” and surreal “The Exterminating Angel” (1962). Why these similarities matter? Well, because they are one too many, and it becomes quite impossible to watch and enjoy “Mother!” without constantly having in mind the scenes and elements of other movies. I know of no other director who would employ his other films or other people’s cinematic work to such a great extent in his work, and then call it creative, original work. In fact, to some extent, Aronofsky’s (over)-use of the previous cinematic material is even more shocking and puzzling that “Mother!”s premise itself.

The cast and acting in “Mother!” are good, even though Bardem and Lawrence make an unlikely pairing. Javier Bardem is a pleasure to watch, because his character remains enigmatic throughout, and Ed Harris is always good playing a guy who is just too secretly eager to crash a family’s peaceful existence, recalling his role in “A History of Violence”.

It is a pity that Aronofsky blatantly and all too obviously borrows his previous material to make this film, with him taking the essential “body parts” of his (and others) films, cementing them together, and producing this latest “scarecrow”. Thus, sadly, “Mother!” is not as effective as it would have been otherwise. Especially in the film’s first half, it feels like a novice film student suddenly decided to write and shoot a parody on Aronofsky’s cinematography/films. The amazing fact here is that this student/person is Aronofsky himself. Though the film’s first part suffers from very predictable moments, with Jennifer Lawrence playing the role of the innocent, victimised Nina of “Black Swan”, the second part of the film proves that “Mother!” is an enjoyable and terrifyingly memorable experience overall. The real pleasure here is to be found in the film’s “over-the-top” sequences. The film is intense and hugely uncomfortable, but it does transpire into a “must-watch” film for any psychological horror fan. 7/10

_______________________________________________________________________________________

**SPOILER ALERT**

While considering both Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” and “Mother!“, I could not help but notice another artistic “influence” here: Stephen King’s novel “Carrie“. “Influence” is too soft a word for the parallel which is to be drawn here. While the relationship between Nina and her mother in “Black Swan” mirrors the relationship of Carrie and her mother in “Carrie“, with both mothers being single, domineering and controlling, the endings of “Mother!” and “Carrie” are also similar in that both finales end in an explosive fire – caused by the main heroine who tried to avenge the wrongs done too her. An inspiration? Well, with a pile of his films on one side of his desk and with a pair of other films on the other, and with Stephen King’s book to finish the script off,  I am now surprised how Aronofsky did not write his script in only fifteen minutes.  

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19 Responses to “Mother!” Review

  1. The Ultimate Rabbit says:

    It is similar to “Black Swan” and “Requiem for a Dream,” but it is said that directors tend to make the same movie or deal with the same subjects over and over. All the same, very good review. I loved the movie.

    • dbmoviesblog says:

      Thank you, and fair enough. Tarantino once said that he ripped off every movie ever made, but he still makes his stuff feel very original, and I would never be able to draw that many parallels through his films. Aronofsky seems to be in the league of his own in that respect.

  2. Great review of an awful, pretentious heap of a film which exists as a void of entertainment masquerading as artsy and experimental when in fact it is nihilistic and dull.

  3. MIB says:

    So basically you’re saying that “The Wrestler” is Aronosky’s best film then? 😉 😛

    I won’t be seeing this one as I am boycotting J-Law films ever since she was gifted the Best Actress Oscar over Emmanuelle Riva but I have noted that it has provoked polarising reviews. I did like “Black Swan” though but as a fan of “Perfect Blue” (and Satoshi Kon in general) I could spot the clear influences.

    • dbmoviesblog says:

      The Wrestler may as well be Aronofsky’s best film 🙂 I think it is Requiem for a Dream, actually. I cannot even watch his previous films now, because Mother! will be on my mind every time. That is what he has done with his cinematic heritage, “plagiarised” his own work to the excess, diminishing its value, hehe.
      That is very interesting you saying you are boycotting Lawrence films. I never liked her as an actress, nor her films. I would have liked Riva to win that time too, and come to think of it, Lawrence performance in Mother! is something akin to Portman’s in Black Swan but without the dancing. This does not mean it is particularly that good.

      • MIB says:

        I’ve only seen the two films I’ve mentioned so I have no other reference points. 😛

        I’ve surprised at my J-Law boycott – I don’t think I’ve ever been so militant towards an actor or actress before before. It’s a shame as I thought was good in “Winter’s Bone” by I guess mainstream Hollywood got to her and created a monster.

        My beef with her Oscar win was that I felt it was political given that the other top awards that year went to “The Artist” and being American, the Academy probably felt they should honour one of their own and not another French person to save face. Since I’ve not seen J-Law’s winning film I can’t say if it was deserved but Riva’s performance was heartbreaking (and it was her birthday that night too!).

        • MIB says:

          Apologies for the errors in the above post. Been a long day and I can’t keep my eyes open… :/

        • dbmoviesblog says:

          In a way, lucky you, lol. I wish it were the first Aronofksy’s film that I have ever seen, then I would have probably given it as high as 9/10: the things that people despised about it, I probably loved, even his philosophical/artsy indulgence. I really saw his bigger picture.
          Well, I support you in your boycott re Lawrence, if that helps. Now that you’ve told me the whole story, it does sound a political win. That’s very unfair the way the Academy wanted to “strike a balance”. I wanted Huppert to win last year, and Stone did. But, the Oscars could be very politicised. I think Moonlight won last year because of the politics, and not JUST because it was better than La La Land.

          • MIB says:

            As someone who wasn’t blown away by “La La Land” I can’t say Stone’s win was particularly deserved either, given Huppert’s masterful turn in “Elle” and other international performances hat deserved recognition (Sonia Braga in “Aquarius” for example).

            The Oscars have form in being slightly divisive with their awards. I recall in 1997, Helen Hunt was the lone American up against four Brits in the Best Actress category. Guess who won? Yup, the lone American! :/

            • dbmoviesblog says:

              Uh, yeah, sad. Perhaps we should always bear in mind that the Academy is an American institution essentially and this is not some truly global festival. Foreign-films are under-valued and under-seen, and I am not even starting on the Academy’s “prudishness”. Oh, well…

  4. Thanks for the review of this movie. It would be nice if you considered shorter paragraphs, having so many long paragraphs in one post makes it very hard to read, focus and not lose your place while reading in each paragraph. Otherwise, you certainly gave a detailed review.

  5. raistlin0903 says:

    The reviews for this film have certain,y been all over the place. There are people that loved it, but there are also enough people that absolutely hated this one. I have yet to see it, so I am still going to keep an open mind for this one. Great review aa always 😊

    • dbmoviesblog says:

      Thank you! In all honesty, I don’t see how people could have hated this film. They went to see an Aronofsky film – it has his trademarks all over the place. It may not be as straightforward as his Black Swan, but he has made other films – and this film is the clear and logical reflection of them. I loved his earlier films, and therefore, I liked “Mother!” overall.

  6. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your review but cannot leave unchallenged your comment that “if one has seen Aronofsky’s previous films, there is almost nothing new here to see”. All art is derivative. There is nothing that is absolutely original; all originality lies in how derived elements are re-combined to produce different visual and emotional representations. I would argue the Mother! is one of the most original films made in years. Like Swiss Army Man, it takes time-worm tropes and cliches and creates new meanings.

    • dbmoviesblog says:

      I appreciate your comment, thanks! I will, of course, politely disagree. There is a limit to every “borrowing”. Aronofsky here is not combining borrowed elements. He is copying his and other’s work and the result is nothing original left at all. “Mother!” steals so many scenes from “Black Swan” – it is unbelievable, from the “toilet – throwing up” sequences to “the bleeding wound” episodes. I have never seen anything like this before.

  7. joliesattic says:

    I love the extent that everyone made comment. Excelllent!

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