Aronofsky's Allegory: mother!
The movie mother! takes place in a secluded old home where life is seldom peaceful. Jennifer Lawrence stars as the title character, a young wife in the process of rehabbing the home she shares with her man, a celebrated poet known as Him (Javier Bardem). Mother sees strange things before things get stranger. Him invites Man (Ed Harris), a terminally ill doctor who has admired Him's work, but has never before met the couple. The next day, his wife, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), comes looking for him. She starts to roam around the house as if she owned it, against the wishes of Mother. None of this intrusion fazes Him. In fact, he welcomes their presence, as though their private life should have no privacy. Things get worse when Man and Woman's Eldest Son (Domhnall Gleeson) and a Younger Brother (Brian Gleeson) arrive. A dispute over inheritance leads Eldest Son killing his sibling. Him opens the house to the mourners until Mother asks them to leave.
Once alone, Mother and Him argue, but the argument leads to intimacy. When she awakens, Mother tells him she's pregnant. This announcement ends Him's long-dormant creativity, and the poem he writes and gets published soon becomes a huge success. The celebration of the publication brings more throngs to the house, including Him's literary agent, Herald (Kristen Wiig). The throngs are more unruly than before as the very pregnant Mother tries to stop the visitors from totally trashing the home. When that fails, she finds a quiet room, where she grants access to Him alone.
I have read that many people have noted religious allegory in mother! While I can see biblical stories such as Cain and Abel and Jesus Christ in the story on reflection, I saw something different in this film from writer-director Darren Aronofsky. I saw a story about fame and its effect on the artist and his immediate family. I saw Him as an artist who creates, and loves sharing his creation with the world. Mother understands Him's desire to create, but doesn't understand his generosity, especially when that generosity becomes excessive. That situation grows heavier on Mother, for Him seems unconcerned for her well-being. While I remained interested in where the story went, I disgusted with Him's treatment of Mother. Him, as either an artist or a Christ figure, comes across as more self-absorbed than generous. Mother! has the darkness of Aronofsky's most successful film, Black Swan, but mother! is more frenetic than Aronofsky's dark take on Swan Lake. I also found the cinematography of Matthew Libatique too distracting, as it is often darkly lit. My eyes had to adjust when the light went from very dark to totally bright at a couple of points in the film.
Lawrence is the best part of the film as the title character, who gives a sympathetic performance as Mother, who finds her best efforts in creating a stable and loving home going unappreciated. Not only does Him not seem to care, but neither do the guests who clearly realize they are not in their own home. When Mother asks people not to do things, they go right ahead and do them anyway the second Mother turns her back. The film sees her turn from loving homemaker to someone desperately trying to keep anything of significant meaning. Bardem gives an interesting performance as Him, a man more interested in sharing and adoration than any space of his own. The same goes for Wiig as a most unusual agent as Herald. Harris and Pfeiffer do their best in their limited screen time.
Mother! is clearly a film that leaves itself open to interpretation. Viewers have sometimes found a message in this picture that they embrace, but I could find little to embrace in this enigma of a creative work. Aronofsky has shown he can successfully challenge an audience with his vision, but in mother! he seems to challenge anyone watching his film to care.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give mother! two stars. I suspect the title is just half of what some would tell the director about this release.