In mother!, Darren Aronofsky flaunts his aptitude for making controversial films that leave some people fascinated and others irritated. The leading actors Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem have already sparked a buzz about the movie’s potential Oscar nomination. There’s nothing inherently wrong with weird movies, but the confusing nature of this unexpected horror film leaves one feeling unsettled and disoriented–prompting the question, “what the hell did I just watch?”
The opening scene of mother!, a 10 second clip of a girl peering into the camera as she and everything around her is set ablaze, sets the tone of the movie as shocking and uncomfortable. The disturbing nature of the clip preceding the title screen caused the audience to break out into an unwarranted bout of (uncomfortable) laughter. From the start, the viewer can already suspect that the details of the storyline will remain ambiguous until the end of the film; even the characters remain nameless. (As a result, this review will refer to actors names).The movie is set entirely inside a rustic home rebuilt by Jennifer Lawrence for her husband, Javier Bardem, a well-known writer, after his childhood home was reduced to ash from a forest fire. While Lawrence spends her time remodeling the house, Bardem searches for inspiration for the next piece of writing he hopes will shoot him back to stardom.
One day, a man knocks on the door of their secluded home; while Bardem impetuously welcomes the stranger into his home, Lawrence reluctantly obliges. The following day, Bardem gladly receives the man’s wife while Lawrence, again, hesitantly lets her in. Obscure characters constantly appear in this fashion—they are brash and curt, and worst of all, wreak havoc on the house, the focal point of the film. As the house Lawrence mothered gets destroyed, the viewer watches the deterioration of Lawrence’s character, letting her biggest fear cloud her judgement: Is my love not enough for my husband?
Because it is so easy to gloss over the underlying themes hinted at by only certain characteristic behaviors, many viewers will leave the theater absolutely hating the movie. However, after reflecting on some of the more perplexing scenes, complex themes begin to emerge. Jennifer Lawrence’s character has no voice of her own and knowingly relies on her husband to get anything of significance done. Bardem plays a loving husband who treats his wife more as a muse for his writing than as an equal counterpart with formed opinions. This is made most evident by the fact that he only calls her “my goddess” rather than referring to her by name. Lawrence accepts and lives with this realization due to her immense and boundless love for him. Both actors portray these difficult and extremely different characters very well. Watching Jennifer Lawrence cower in the presence of adversity and struggle in a constant state of confusion will make any audience member feel swept under the rug. Additionally, the couple’s pronounced age difference reflects Bardem’s dominance over his wife and highlights Lawrence’s feeble and dainty nature. Her main role as a muse makes her a means to an end–her ability to inspire his poetic words helps him satiate his hunger for attention and idolization from others.
Bardem’s eager disposition to please every character in the movie can be viewed as an artist’s autocritique. He craves adoration from his fans so much that this formerly recognized writer will do anything to be in the spotlight again. As strangers continually disrupt his home-life, he pushes away his wife to make way for the newfound attention from his followers. At the beginning of the film he says that as an artist, his job is to create. In this case, he is willing to kill the relationship with his wife in order to create a bubble of fame, reverence, and self-glorification.
The audience shouldn’t expect a defining scene or clear-cut answers—Aronofsky artfully works confusion into every facet of the movie. This new and distinct form of terror is felt by both Lawrence and the audience throughout the entire film. The increasingly symbolic script gives the viewer freedom to interpret the film through many perspectives. Although mother! is a film some will love and others will hate, this atypical horror film will have people talking about it for months.