It’s usually easy to know if you’ve just watched a love it or hate it film, as even if you’re absolutely blown away while you’re watching, odds are at the same time you could honestly understand why someone wouldn’t like it at all on any level. You’ll also likely find the easiest way to describe it to someone by saying, “Oh, you’ll either love it or hate it. Me? I (fill in whether you loved or hated it,) but you’ll have to see it for yourself and see where you land.”
mother! is definitely one of these types of movies, as it’s received plenty of critical praise, but also plenty of harsh criticisms as well. Now, I avoid movie trailers, commercials, and pretty much any article about upcoming movies because I love going in with a blank slate and no serious expectations. Sometimes that backfires, and it’s hard to say if that was the case with mother!
Apparently, the film’s writer/director Darren Aronofsky explained a rough idea of what he was going for, what some key story points were after the movie began tracking poorly with people not really understanding what was happening while they were watching it. Now, as someone who just watched it in the same context –with zero interpretation from the writer – I can definitely understand why the film received such negative feedback: it’s about pretentious and unclear as a movie can be.
You see, you can’t just say that because your movie is artistic and doesn’t follow the usual rules that those who don’t like it simply don’t “get it.” If by the end of the movie, all the symbolism, metaphors, allegories and character actions don’t clearly leave the viewer understanding what has taken place, then that’s just poor story telling. And mother! is a master class in just that.
Now, knowing what I know now, what Aronofsky was trying to go for and what the movie was about, and whom the characters represented, does that change my opinion of the film? Not really. I shouldn’t have to Google, “What in the hell did I just watch?” after finishing a movie to be able to enjoy it. Sure, in hindsight, certain aspects make more sense, and the symbolism of certain actions and characters become clearer; however, that doesn’t change that during my initial viewing – the one that matters when it comes to most movie-goers – I was just sitting there wondering where the story was going, and why every character was acting so bizarre and interacting in ways that people just simply wouldn’t.
This isn’t a movie for smart people, or a film made for those looking for something incredibly deep to satisfy their intellectual cravings – it’s just a strongly acted, often beautifully shot, pretentious, self-indulgent, incoherent mess of a tale. During its two-hour runtime, time and time again I’d just be wondering why things are happening, why aren’t characters reacting in a natural way to such incredibly bizarre circumstances, and in short, what the point of anything happening was.
And sometimes – if done properly – there can be a moment later in a film such as this that helps explain everything and make you look back and go, “Oh! Oh, of course. Oh, wow, okay, I see why they did that, and why that happened…hmm…okay, that’s interesting,” but that never happens in mother! No, instead, it just keeps treading farther and farther into the deep end until it completely drowns in its own pretentiousness, fades to black, the credits begin to roll and then all that’s left is to see how well the soundtrack playing muffles the many expletives that are flying out of your mouth in reaction to what you just witnessed as you look for the remote to turn off the television. Well, at least that was roughly how my experience ended.
Now, as mentioned above, the acting is really strong, with Jennifer Lawrence giving a fantastic performance. Javier Bardem is also great as her husband, and Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer at least keep things interesting with their work here. Since I didn’t know the story Aronofsky was telling, I was trying to unravel the mystery of who these characters were, and what their motivations may be, and how things would play out…but since that was never really something Aronofsky thought needed addressing, the performances – as solid as they were all around – were somewhat wasted due to the fact that things are so unclear for so long, and get way out of hand to the point of no return before anything of substance is given to the viewer to hang on to, that it’s really hard to care about these characters at all.
In hindsight, if I wanted to go back and watch it again knowing what the story is now, maybe it would be clearer, but I don’t want to give it that opportunity. Movies aren’t something you should have to read up on beforehand in order to enjoy. The writer shouldn’t have to explain his entire plot and whom the characters represent in order for their film to make a lick of sense. That’s just not how it works. Create an intriguing tale using the same mechanics, but do so in an inviting way that reveals itself to the viewer throughout, and then you win yourself the repeat viewing award where people go back to find aspects they may have missed with their newfound revelations buzzing in their minds.
I do understand now what Aronofsky was going for with mother!, and I do believe he has the talent to have pulled it off properly had he chosen to do so. Instead, he took the pretentious route, and because of that, the film suffered – though not as much as those of us who had to sit through it without his Coles notes nearby.
The film looks fantastic, and is shot beautifully, with great cinematography that all elevate the Blu-ray transfer to a top tier level. The audio transfer is also top notch, with the dialogue, sound effects, score and overall mix all working together in perfect harmony throughout the duration of the film.
The Making Of mother! – This is a hefty making of feature, coming in at almost 30 minutes in length, and it covers everything from the pre-production meetings between Aronofsky, Bardem and Lawrence, to the creation of the set, shooting, as well as cast and crew speaking about the film, the story, and the filmmaking process. While it’s quite informative, right out of the gate it’s clear that pretentious is exactly what Aronofsky was going for when creating this movie; however, the producers talk about the story as though it should be crystal clear to the viewer what’s going on as the mystery unravels. Ah well, missed the mark on that one.
The Makeup FX of mother! – This feature is fairly self-explanatory, and focuses on the make-up in mother, its importance, and just how gory things can get as the film progresses.
Paramount Pictures Presents mother!. Written & Directed by: Darren Aronofsky. Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer. Running time: 120 Minutes. Rating: 14A. Released on Blu-ray: Dec. 19, 2017.