In a rare move by a big studio, Paramount decided to sell Mother! as a mainstream movie instead of shopping it around film festivals, where it would have a more open-minded and patient audience. Nonetheless, the movie garnered enough buzz that it used negative reviews as part of its marketing.
Mother! starts intriguing enough thanks to consistent and deft technical choices behind the camera. Measured cinematography, atmospheric sound design, evolving color palette, and a 16mm film stock create a mysterious claustrophobic mood that later on paints grim anarchy. The camera closely follows Mother and the visuals change as the plot unfolds through her eyes.
The performances here are great, with Michelle Pfeiffer stealing every scene she’s in. Even when things get utterly ridiculous, Jennifer Lawrence keeps things grounded.
The movie definitely has something to say using biblical references, but its buried underneath a hodgepodge of political and theological imagery mixed with what I can’t help think of as personal anecdotes from Aronofsky’s life as a filmmaker (Mother! can easily be a case against marrying a creative, showing the excess baggage that can weigh down the relationship – ego and fame).
Everything devolves into cartoonish anarchy and theater-of-the-absurd horror, with every portrayal of human depravity that the director can think of. This includes terrorism, celebrity worship, tribalism, and a puzzling cameo by Kristen Wiig as a psychopath. Mother! becomes more hilarious than it is terrifying. Within an hour, the house turns into a refuge for strangers to a post-funeral turned frat party to a dystopian battlefield of a cultish horde.
The names of the casts are a big clue to what this movie is really about, but that’s easy to miss as the movie piles on bigger and better ways to punish Mother through the narcissistic chauvinism of Him. He treats her as nothing more than a prop, while she desperately tries to hold up a crumbling marriage by fixing an empty nest.
In fairness, Aronofsky does commit to the insanity of this movie. It will test your patience. Unsurprisingly the average cinemagoer will be bored and confused as to what the fuck Mother! is supposed to be about. There are ways to portray the selfishness of mankind and the destruction of mother earth without resorting to an assault of the senses, but you can’t deny that Mother! will lead to an interesting discussion.
Spoiler! What this movie means:
Him is God and Mother is mother Earth. The Man is Adam and his wife Woman is Eve. Their kids are Cain and Abel. When their family comes and the guests destroy the house, this refers to the “great flood”. Mother earth cleans up after the first apocalypse and then more people come. They idolize God and his scriptures and fight over him and his possessions. Mother earth’s home gets destroyed in the process. The baby is God’s creation, Jesus, who dies for mankind. He begs mother earth to forgive them. She lashes out instead and destroys everything with fire and brimstone, then God starts it all over again with another Mother.
Mother! is an intriguing cautionary tale backed by solid performances and deft filmmaking, but its allegorical tale is buried underneath cartoonish excess.