By Tyler Stevens, Contributing Writer
Darren Aronofsky, the bold, brash, and often unclassifiable auteur behind such modern classics as “Requiem for a Dream”, “The Wrestler”, and “Black Swan”, has never been known for his subtlety. The aforementioned films, all heavy and masterful in their own right, hit with the power of an eighteen-wheeler and leave the viewer in their smoky wake. At once the least subtle, most absurd, and absolute best film of Aronofsky’s lean-yet-expansive career, “mother!” is hard to explain without giving away some of its most joyous and harrowing discoveries, so it’s better to watch the masterfully-concocted trailer, which captures both the essence and anxiety of “mother!” without giving away any of its devilish delights.
All you need to know is this: there’s a woman, credited as Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and her husband, credited as Him (Javier Bardem). They live in a beautiful, isolated home where Bardem writes his world-renowned poetry and Lawrence restores the interior of their gorgeous, solitary paradise. Then Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer show up. Things get stranger from there. At once an allegorical exploration of man’s relationship to his planet, his beliefs, and his creator and a balls-to-the-wall, surrealist freak show that’ll have any average moviegoer racing towards the exits, “mother!” is one of the most audacious, discomforting, and revelatory things ever seen in a theater. The film either leaves the viewer in awe, horrified, confounded, or some harmonious mixture of all three. Most insane, perhaps, is that a major studio (Paramount Pictures, a studio whose offices will be mighty awkward on Monday) financed and distributed this nationwide. With enough thought-provoking, sacrilegious content to make anyone with a Make America Great Again hat and a gospel quote in their Twitter bio lose their minds, this is certainly sure to be the year’s most polarizing movie. Unfortunately, this also destines it to rot in a hell made of poor box office returns, even poorer audience reception, and little-to-no awards recognition.
All of that is a shame, because “mother!” is not just excellent, it’s one of the very best films of the year. From Matthew Libatique’s claustrophobic, exhilarating cinematography to Paula Fairfield’s all-timer sound design, the film is a technical masterpiece. Bardem, Harris and Pfeiffer are all captivating in their own right, but this is Lawrence’s show from start-to-finish, and she delivers the best performance of her career–a turn that conjures dread, passion, and bewilderment often in harrowing, long-take close-ups. She says everything that needs to be said with her jaw agape and her eyes wide open in terror. It’s a masterclass performance that will go underappreciated while everyone else talks about the film’s weirdness.
Love it or hate it, “mother!” is bound to be a heated discussion-starter for the years to come, a film that is both maddening and blissful, shocking and familiar, unhinged and brilliant. It’s Aronofsky’s finest hour that far too few will see.
“mother!” opened in theaters on Friday, Sep. 15.