If there is one thing the cinema of 2017 will be remembered for, it will be hype. Specifically, how hype was used heavily to advertise films that left many with a bad taste in their mouths. There have been some movies that have lived up to the hype but not many.
The new film Mother! by renowned director Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream) is one of these recent films that took several laps riding the hype wagon. While Aronofsky’s films usually start as limited releases in art-house theaters, he has become a household name in recent years due to the success of the Academy Award-winning Black Swan.
Because of this, Paramount decided to give Mother! a promotional boost by opening it in wide-release. Judging by the audience-approval ratings from Cinemascore (where this film received a rare “F” rating) relative to the box-office totals to date, it appears that people are talking about Mother! but not for the reasons Paramount had wanted.
To say this film is divisive is an understatement. I have not seen a film this alienating since Natural Born Killers. There really is no in-between with this one: people who have seen it either were so confused by it that they loved it or were so disgusted by it that it angered them.
As the credits began to roll at the end, I just sat there. I processed what I had witnessed. I will admit I was a bit shell-shocked by what I experienced. I experienced the same feelings after watching Dunkirk. The only difference is I liked Dunkirk. The more and more I thought on it, the angrier I became. I concluded this was one of the worst film experiences I have ever had. Mother! was the cinematic equivalent to a fart: a large buildup leading to an foul release with having nothing else to show for it in the end.
For those who are afraid I will post spoilers in this review, do not worry: the film meanders to such a degree that it is hard to describe it without getting lost in translation from eyes to keyboard. There is a woman (Jennifer Lawrence) and a man (Javier Bardem). They have no names, though the credits on IMDB identify them as Mother and Him. They have a house. Two strangers in the forms of Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer (a.k.a. Man and Woman) come to visit (i.e. invade) their home and make life a living hell for Mother.
That is all you need to know about Mother! in terms of story. To be quite honest, that is really all I can describe when it comes to an actual plot that makes any sense. This film provides a lot of set-up but it looks like ten-thousand rabid ferrets attacking your face once it is released.
Despite the story problems, this film is not without merit. The set design and art direction are absolutely amazing. It really does look like the couple live in an old house that is being renovated from the ground-up. Darren Aronofsky directs this film with the sense of constant chaos that the film needs. It works. Maybe a bit too well for me, but it works.
This film also showcases some truly great acting, particularly from Michelle Pfeiffer and Jennifer Lawrence. They both deserve Oscar nominations for their performances. Pfeiffer is a revelation as the nosy busybody who overstays her welcome and Lawrence gives the most gut-wrenching performance of her career. You honestly feel for Mother, though with the way she is tortured you may wonder if the script was written by The Marquis de Sade.
The only other positive thing I can say about this film is that it is an honest work of art. Horror films as art is nothing new. Heck, two horror films that are considered art-house classics – Suspiria and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – celebrate their 40th anniversary this year. Even films like Hellraiser, The Blair Witch Project and most recently The Babadook and The Witch are considered art-house films.
Horror can be art and Mother! is both horror and art. It is designed to provoke emotions and reactions. In that respect, it is successful. However, as a film that entertains and begs multiple viewings in the future, it fails. I experienced it and accept it for the work that it is, but I reject it from ever entering my life again.