I assume that I’m not the only one whose social media feeds included conversation, anger, praise, or all out confusion about the latest Darren Aronofsky film, Mother! The film first generated buzz when reports surfaced that it was booed at the Cannes Film Festival weeks ago. After seeing it over the weekend, my reactions to it are still mixed.
First, let me state that there are aspects of the film I liked a lot, including its dream-like quality that reminded me of much of Aronofsky’s work, especially Black Swan, but more so, I really enjoyed the use of the classic Gothic tropes, specially the setting, a run-down house in which every floor board creaks and light bulbs fill with blood (Amityville Horror, anyone?). I also related to Jennifer Lawrence’s nameless character, a woman who painstakingly tries to make her husband (Javier Bardem) love her, including painting and renovating his former home, which burned down years ago. The house is a nice representation of the strain in their relationship and the female protagonist’s ultimate descent into madness (again, another classic Gothic/horror trope).
Generally, I think, audience members will probably root for Lawrence’s character to resist her domineering partner, especially as he invites more and more people over, against her wishes, beginning with a nameless couple played by Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris.
Harris and Pfeiffer’s acting is solid, but some of the dialogue is just too heavy handed, especially when Pfeiffer’s character asks Lawrence’s character why she doesn’t want kids. At times, I felt like I was hit over the head through the not-so-subtle symbolism and dialogue. Leaving the theater, I thought of films that handle some of the same topics better, namely Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, and, more recently, The Witch. The exploration of male dominance and feminist resistance are a centerpiece of those films, but more artfully explored.
The film can also be viewed as an allegory about the creative process. Without spoiling too much of the film, especially the ending, I will merely state that Lawrence and Bardem’s characters each create something. The film is an exploration of what people endure, especially a couple, during the creative process.
What irked me most about the film, however, is the fact that Lawrence, generally someone who plays a tough, inspiring female lead (Think Silver Linings Playbook or The Hunger Games), isn’t given enough moments of resistance in the film. It does come, but it is too short-lived. It is not even clear why she fawns over her partner so much. His character is not given much story. All we really know is that he’s a writer whose house burned down.
Mother! is a polarizing film, but, at the very least, the film is generating a lot of discussion and debate. Give it a viewing and see what you think.