A week after the humanist horror of It, director Darren Aronofksy (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) goes for a more abstract, surrealist horror with Mother!.
Jennifer Lawrence plays the film’s nameless heroine (no major characters are given names), who is married to a poet (Javier Bardem). One night, a strange man (Ed Harris) knocks on their door mistaking their home for a bed & breakfast. Bardem allows him to stay and soon the guest’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up. Most of the film’s second half is anarchy/chaos that defies logic or description.
On the positive side, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer are terrific actors who don’t appear on screen often enough. They are a welcome presence here, striking a perfect balance of friendliness and creepiness. Once they leave the film a little after the midpoint, their loss is felt.
But the second half is largely headache-inducing. While Mother! is not the type of movie to make clear its intentions, the first half seems like it is, at least in part, an exploration of one woman being relentlessly gaslighted (legitimately expressing concern/anger over something and being told she’s overreacting or crazy) by everyone around her. The second half doesn’t entirely abandon that thread, but it descends too far into lunacy. And the characters are too transparently symbolic for the audience to develop much of an emotional investment.
When a movie veers that deeply into abstraction, you either feel the vibe of the movie and are able to get on its wavelength or it becomes like nails on a blackboard. Sadly, it was the latter for me. To its credit, Mother! is not a timid film and will certainly have its passionate defenders who admire Aronofsky and the cast for their balls-to-the-wall bravery. But it’s hard to recommend a film whose second hour made me want to take an Advil.