mother!’ Review: Jennifer Lawrence And Javier Bardem Are Personifications In This Allegorical Tale Of Human Existence

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source: Paramount Pictures

Darren Aronofsky’s message is clear and a little too loud

Let me start by clearing out some confusion. No, mother! is not a straight-forward horror film or the home invasion thriller it so perfectly markets. With that said, it’s by no means an easy film to market. Darren Aronofsky’s latest film is his most ambitious and daring yet, even for him. Working on a purely metaphorical level, Aronofsky is able to craft a horror film so different, it will surely have casual movie-goers walking out of the theatre. However, as a critic and a fan of these types of film, mother! is at its best when delivering its harsh message even if it often seems self-assertive.

At the surface, mother! tells the story of a couple (Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem) rebuilding their home. As random guests start pilling in, they make it their duty to make this new foreign space their own, totally ignoring the owners. As the story unfolds, a deeper understanding is revealed, and an allegory is thus, created.

In the grand scheme of things, Jennifer Lawrence is smack in the middle. Her character, credited as “mother,” is the most important figure in this whole metaphorical tale and Lawrence plays her to such dramatic extent. As her character goes through many traumatic events, Lawrence evolves from a caring and nurturing figure to a terrified pessimist. She is the point of view of the audience, and all the events are filtered through her eyes, revealing just how our actions can be detrimental.

A striking absence in mother! is the expressionistic score heavily used in the ad campaign. To compensate, Aronofsky has created a sense of atmosphere through various sounds that come from Lawrence’s character. All the little sounds like footsteps or the sound of things breaking are all emphasized creating an auditory threat. As the visitors keep entering the house, there is a building noise that becomes louder and more unbearable, highlighting Lawrence’s annoyance with the whole situation.

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mother! works purely on an allegorical level – source: Paramount Pictures

With these working elements, Aronofsky is able to craft an allegorical tale with a strong message about human existence. Taking with him a basic understanding of the biblical creation story and contemporary political imageries, he delivers his message loud and clear. With these building blocks, Aronofsky is working on a purely metaphorical level. There’s no traditional story to lean back on nor are there characters to rely on. If for some reason this construction isn’t as sturdy as Aronofsky makes it out to be, there’s no cushion to fall back on.

However, there’s no reason to step back from his abstract creation as it works on many levels. Peeling back layers after layers of this allegory reveals different kinds of analysis. There’s room for a feminist reading, a modern sociopolitical reading, a biblical reading, a critique of Christianity, and much more. In just one allegorical story, he crafts a lot of different meaning and lets it to the audience which one they prefer.

Having said that, at times Aronofsky seems too audacious. His religious symbolism and metaphors are delivered in a way that makes them blunt. Lines of dialogue outright say the obvious while the frank symbolism makes this whole allegory quite predictable. With a basic knowledge of the biblical creation story, you’re able to predict the whole first act of this film as it follows it verse by verse. From the first scene, Aronofsky doesn’t make it difficult as to who Bardem and Lawrence personify and thereby, diluting the coming events.

Not to say that the future events are anything other than shocking. mother! offers quite violent and shocking imageries while abstractly exploring contemporary ideas and social issues. With all these explorations, the film works best steeped in symbolism. As a story, it doesn’t quite work as well, and it causes problems when Aronofsky steps back from the symbolic level to a more grounded story. The characters will say things that would fit into a more realistic story but don’t necessarily fit in the bigger picture. The same problem arises when the Black Swan director explores the relationships and emotions of these characters which again divorce them of their personifications.

It’s quite clear what are Aronofsky’s intentions with creating this whole allegory. Some imageries are quite disturbing and shocking, but a lot of the bigger narration is predictable. Aronofsky is eager to tell you his message and doesn’t always take the time needed to subtly show it. There are plenty of moments where he explicitly tells you what’s his vision without taking a more implicit route. At the same time when mother! is able to flourish on a wholly allegorical level, the film showcases you its intricate nature and different meanings and messages. In a world dominated by sequels, remakes, and franchises, mother! is a big budget arthouse film for cinephiles thirsty of experiencing something deeper.

GRADE: B-

mother! comes out in theatres September 15. 

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