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The titular character is never named, and as played by Jennifer Lawrence, is the adoring wife of an also unnamed middle-aged poet referred to as 'Him' (Javier Bardem) stuck in writer's block. They live in a gorgeous octagonal Victorian mansion, which she is painstakingly renovating. We find out later that the house was burned down in a fire which consumed her husband's first wife, and that he had pulled from the ashes a burnished crystal which he now displays proudly in his study.
Then out of the blue, a stranger (Ed Harris) turns up at their doorstep. He says he's an orthopaedic surgeon who's looking for a place to stay, and that he had mistaken their house for a bed-and- breakfast. To her horror, 'Him' invites the 'man' to stay; and by the next day, his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives, followed by their two quarrelling sons (Domhnall and Brian Gleeson). Before the day is over, one son will bludgeon and accidentally kill the other, resulting in a pool of blood on the wooden floorboards that she will scrub clean save for a patch shaped in a vagina.
It doesn't take a genius to see the parallel with the Cain and Abel story in the Bible, or the 10 plagues that make a brief appearance one by one. Those familiar with Aronofosky will know that he has been fascinated with Christianity from his first feature 'Pi' to 'Noah' to 'The Fountain', Aronofsky has consistently drawn allegories and imagery from Biblical stories. 'Mother!' is no different, but there is no coherence, no logic and no purpose in his references here.
The anything-goes, anyhow-told narrative has unwelcome strangers turning up at her house to mourn the death of the 'man's' son, an unleashing of pent-up passion between her and 'Him', her unexpected pregnancy afterwards that lets her morph into the Virgin Mary, her husband's sudden inspiration and overnight success, the arrival of cult followers that want to use her newborn son as blood sacrifice, and last but not least plenty of sectarian wars and conflict that culminate in a full cycle of destruction and reincarnation. Only those enamoured with 'bullshit' will think that revealing any of these unexpected twists and turns amounts to 'spoilers'; but really, it's a lot of shock-and-awe wrapped around a bastardisation of notable Biblical tales for absolutely nothing.
Indeed, even more absurd than the movie itself is how some have tried so strenuously to justify its nonsense. One reading has it as an allegory for the abuse of Mother Earth, a warning for climate change; another explains how it describes the process by which art is created and how the artist eventually becomes a slave to that art; another talks about how some men have treated their women in marriage, reducing them to supporting roles and robbing them of agency and respect. Neither of these interpretations disguises the fact that the movie is a haphazard mess of ideas that never amounts to anything substantial or compelling.
Why then should we put up with its misogyny? Why then should we put up with the overwrought delirium that just gets more and more sickening? Or more fundamentally, why should we even care about what's happening on screen? Not even Lawrence, or Bardem, or Harris, or Pfeiffer can add depth to their characters, which are so thinly written that we wonder why the actors even bothered. And therein lies the stark truth about the madness we are supposed to discern as an expression of profound ideas there is simply nothing behind it, no meaning, no wit and certainly no redemption.
'Mother!' is the sad product of an artist's self-indulgence taken to its own grotesque extremes. It is no art, it is no genius, and it is definitely no masterpiece, despite critics caught up in the same pretension will try to convince you. If you're curious about why we hated it so much, then go see it by all means; otherwise, stay away from this motherf**king disaster.
mother! fails on both levels, and the result is a confusing mess as likely to bore as it is to disgust.
The script is stark, but as opposed to offering up a Hemingway-esque brevity and punch, it instead descends to the level of drive by dialogue, actors delivering short statements with blank expressions and then leaving the room they're in. Granted, the actors only had Aronofsky's script to work with, and he's on record as saying it only took five days to write, which is visible in every scene. An undergrad brags about finishing their paper the night before it's due; a screenwriter should not laud a similar process for his film.
The only film that comes close to the delivery in mother! is The Room, which may very well be the superior of the two. And if you told me that Bardem, normally a captivating actor, had modeled his performance of Him on Wiseau's Johnny, I would readily believe you.
In fact, the only actor who brings any life to this joyless epic is Pfeiffer, whose facial expressions and tone elevate her sniping dialogue far above the written quality. She's also the only one who brings any passion to her role, as Lawrence seems to have been reduced to two speeds - blank expression and monotone speech, or screaming so hard she cracks a rib. All granularity seen in her previous performances is gone here.
The characters portrayed by normally fine actors are so small, so one dimensional, one barely cares about them as people, let alone as stand ins for something larger than themselves. I could muster neither sympathy nor even vague interest in the foibles and woes of this couple, nor their never-ending torrent of house guests. (Judging by the laughs in the theater, I wasn't the only one.) Their tragedies in the final third were grating, not because they were disgusting, or shocking, but because I was never interested in them to begin with.
The setting is a perfect mirror to Lawrence's acting, if not her character. The film takes places in a rustic, half finished house. As before with the script, any attempt at a spare beauty is never realized, and the end result looks like the set designers didn't want to spend too much time on something they knew would literally be ripped apart in the final act. The house is our only setting in this film, so its lack of visual interest is a massive detriment.
The cinematography is likewise lackluster, with nothing special to either set it apart or condemn it. It is filmed adequately. The story and performances were clearly meant to be the jewel here, a situation analogous to purchasing a workable frame only to enshrine pages from the 1988 Albuquerque phone book therein.
And since I brought up analogy, the elephant in the room, the roughshod Biblical allegory. Said allegory falls flat on its face as soon as its analyzed in the slightest. Lawrence is Aronofsky's self insertion character (in the style of bad fan fiction) to the Christian canon, a Gaia character who forms an unbalanced duality with Him, the writer's presentation of the Christian God.
Him is never very godlike, and his standing as "God" is simply revealed to us at the end, a classic example of telling and not showing. While observant viewers may be able to deduce his role from context earlier in the film, he is never characterized in a way that makes his stated role fit his perceived role. An allegory is not proclaiming a character to be other than they have been observed by way of a brief statement at the end.
The titular mother, the self insertion Gaia character, has a similar problem - she demonstrates none of the qualities common to portrayals of Mother Earth figures in fiction. Instead, she is aloof, credulous, and dense. If the point intended to be made was Aronofsky's self-proclaimed howl about the treatment of the planet, perhaps he should have created a Mother Earth figure that was remotely sympathetic, or relatable. What we have instead is a distant robot whose demise was met with yawns.
The revelation, easily predicted from the first scene, that this is a cycle these characters have been locked in since time immemorial, fails to shock or elicit a reaction, unless one counts exasperation. It also drives the allegory firmly off the rails, moving our underlying mythology from a Christian creation and eschatology to something more Eastern, with reality a cyclical illusion.
There was an opportunity here for a valid story to be told on multiple levels. We live in an era of man made climate change and contemporary Christianity is ripe for criticism. A more skilled writer and director could have pulled off a tale that would be as heartbreaking as it was true. And perhaps Aronofsky could have done that, had he taken his time and revised even the slightest bit. (However, as this is his second failure in a row that deals with Biblical themes, perhaps not.)
What we are treated to instead is the cinematic equivalent of soda crackers and a brief lecture by an inarticulate first year undergrad about religion and environmentalism. I wish I could end this with the famous quotation from King Lear, but it's not entirely accurate. We were only given the idea of sound and fury, not the genuine article. This film is the shadow of a shadow, and in that, at least, it does signify nothing.
The movie is helmed by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, two actors I'm particularly fond of. The short summary of this movie is that they are a couple who live in a beautiful, remote home. One night they take in an unwanted house guest (Harris), more at Bardem's choosing than Lawrence's. This leads to countless other house guests and invasions from the outside world, often to the detriment of Bardem & Lawrence's beautiful home, and Lawrence's well-being.
As the movie goes on, these violations against the home and Lawrence get increasingly bizarre and excessive. They get laid on so thick that, even if you have figured out the analogy by the midway point of the movie and enjoy the way the movie is getting it's point across, the sheer madness that transpires in the second half of the film is likely to sour you on the overkill applied to the message.
It becomes fairly apparent that the house and Lawrence's character from which the movie is titled represent our planet. Bardem's character represents a creator/God (in credits, his character is simply known as 'Him'). Harris and Pfeiffer, the original, invasive guests, are the original Man & Woman (Adam & Eve), and from there, a lot of the plot initially descends from biblical references and then into His desire to provide for his followers and to be adored by them, ignorant of how detrimental they are to the house and Mother.
At the very end, the house becomes overpopulated with people who are both zealots and warmongers who descend into utter 'WTF' madness while they destroy the home, murder the couple's child, and force Mother to burn down the home she so painstakingly created, killing everyone inside it. After the fire, He carries her out, and recreates the home with a new Mother.
As I said, it's a story thick on symbolism and message. I personally liked what they were going for, but think it could have been a much better movie if they had done it far subtly than with the extreme overkill they employed in the second half of this film. Looking at the reviews, I see a lot of people torn by this movie, and I think for these reasons. Some people didn't clue into the message very well and just thought it was a movie that made no sense. Others may not have liked the pro-environment analogies, while some may have loved how excessive the movie hammered it's point home. Another group likely felt how I did - that the plot and point was unique and interesting, but the sheer madness the film careened into during the second half was extremely excessive.
Overall, I give it a 6/10, with disappointment that a promising concept wasn't executed more sensibly.
This film, however, had significant structural problems which shake its foundation as a film.
The film is split into two parts...Why? It's not clear. It's also not clear what the two plot-lines mean. There is not "real" connection to piece them together and the viewer is pushed to create their own...
This viewer sees a meaningless old testament - new testament relationship. But interplay? Not much. There seems to be a Cane and Able story in the first half. You know what happens... But how this is relevant to the main actors (the husband and wife) who take this couple and, subsequently, their two sons in. The husband and wife host the big family argument. Why? Dunno?
The second half, when J. Lawrence, has her child, we are thrust into a tired boy-Jesus plot line and his subsequent sacrifice a la New Testament plot themes. But why? And what do these two halves of the movie have to do with one another...apart from the first being an old testament story and the second being one from the new testament.
The ending is violent and contrived, yet is a very good dream sequence, albeit Lawrence is not dreaming (or is he?).
Two old Polanski homages, albeit super-heavy-handed, incessantly bombard you throughout the movie...The Apartment and Rosemary's Baby. But is it an homage or just meaningless lifting of motifs? The hole in the wall and the bloody hole (aka vagina) are direct parallels. As is the baby sacrifice or offering in both.
All in all it was watchable. Had some interesting points. Good camera work. Good effects. But the story doesn't hold up on any level, except in the mind of some viewers who need to stitch it together and make sense of it themselves in their own way...Perhaps that was the abstract goal.
It's pretty clear that there are quite a number of reviews/rants on this page with people expressing their hate towards the story and how it's been portrayed on screen. It's strange because it looks like they had absolutely no idea what they were watching... it's trivial and shallow to publish a review without any research. However, I do agree that it isn't an easy one to sit through, but some of the greatest films aren't. So again, please don't bother checking it out if your mind is closed, you won't appreciate this masterpiece.
To help deter unaccommodating opinions being regurgitated, I'll try to explain what made the film worth your time.
I believe there are two themes that can be interpreted from Mother!! Therefore, the use of an additional explanation mark is required.
Pretty sure the inconvenient truth to this theory is that when the sh*t hits the fan, mother doesn't like people messing up her house (Earth). Apparently, Darren Aronofsky is not religious but he likes strong environmental messages. He also wrote the script in 5 days.. how long did it take God to create the world? Just saying.
Jennifer Lawrence is (Mother) Earth The house is Earth.
Javier Bardem (Him) is God Creator of life on Earth, loves attention, and forgives everyone.
Ed Harris (Man) is Adam Invited by God to Earth (aka house)
Michelle Pfeiffer (Woman) is Eve Created from Adam's rib (scene where Ed Harris was sick on the toilet)
The crystal is the forbidden fruit (apple)
The baby is the bread at the last supper "Body of Christ"
An extreme version of anxiety in a relationship that is deteriorating. The tense build-up in social interactions and how someone may view a scenario where they feel left out and forgotten. The jealousy someone feels when their bond is shared. Not paying attention to the needs of one another in a relationship. Having a baby to keep the relationship alive. All these emotions are magnified/multiplied by 100 to the point it's literally terrifying, so crazy that it may make you laugh. Finally, once the love has completely diminished, the only thing left is to leave and start again new.
Either way, this film is unique and original in the way it's portrayed, packaged and presented.
Hope you can appreciate the beauty of this Gothic religious tale / art-house opera and award the actors & production team that helped make it possible.
Despite excellent acting from Lawrence and Pfieffer, Bardem sadly is less convincing, the film is an exercise in overkill. From the burned heart turning into a crystal (it would really turn to ash that would float away) to the patch of blood shaped like a vagina that refuses to go away, this is a film that wallows in self- indulgence and, despite what some critics may say, lacks originality. Anyone that knows their bible can see the Cain and Abel and the plagues etc. but the allegories and imagery he has taken from the Bible are ruined by deliberate shock tactics, robbing them of any true meaning leaving a film of no substance where nothing really happens. If it was supposed to make me think, I am afraid all it left me with was 'there's 121 minutes of my life I won't get back.'