mother! is…

Darren Aronofsky’s new film…

OK, to be honest, I’m not really sure what this is. I have theories, notions, inklings. But mother! is so dense, so impenetrable, and, to be perfectly frank, so batshit bonkers, that those theories, notions, and inklings could be entirely wrong. mother! could mean absolutely anything to absolutely anyone. Or it could mean absolutely nothing.

mother! (my inner writer is both delighted and aghast at that lack of capitalisation, not to mention the errant exclamation mark) begins with a beaten and bloody woman standing amid a raging inferno. Remember that; it’s important. We then cut to a woman (Jennifer Lawrence) waking up and calling out for her husband (Javier Bardem). Neither of these characters has a name; the woman is credited as Mother, the man simply as Him (other suitably obtuse character credits include Herald, Defiler, and Devourer).

Him is a poet; his previous work is highly regarded, but he has since suffered from writers’ block. He and Mother live in Him’s rustic house, which burned down sometime in the past (remember that, too) and Mother is now renovating. Their quiet, idyllic existence (one might even say it’s a paradise, wink wink) is interrupted when a man (Ed Harris) turns up on their doorstep. Much to Mother’s chagrin, Him inexplicably allows the man to stay. The man is soon followed by his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer). Then their two sons. Then more guests. Then even more guests. Then…

Then, like I said, things turn batshit bonkers. mother’s second half is a deranged descent into delirium. Post-apocalypse, war, cannibalism; mother! has it all. These late scenes (and, to an extent, the whole film), have the feel of a fever dream. They defy logic, they defy space, and they defy time. Despite the second and third acts taking place over a single night, entire ages seem to pass by before our eyes. In many ways, mother! is a distant cousin to Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon; both films gleefully combine arthouse pretension, shocking violence, and trashy thrills.

That, throughout this whirlwind of madness, mother! manages to retain its thematic integrity is a testament to Aronofsky’s singular artistic vision. The broad thematic strokes are clear, both from the images present and from Aronofsky’s previous work: the effect of the creative process on the artist’s life and family; the tumultuous relationship between artist and audience; the socially accepted servility of the feminine; even religious allegory. Beyond that, though, who the fuck knows?

Maybe nobody knows. In its final scenes, and especially its final shot, mother! reveals itself as perhaps nothing more than a practical joke, a cinematic prank that made me genuinely laugh out loud. More with surprise and dismay than actual humour, but I still laughed. I’m still laughing now, writing this. I’m sure Aronofsky is laughing, too. In a sense, mother! is a two hour set up to a nihilistic punchline.

mother! left me with a delirious grin on my face. Not because it’s joyful, or life-affirming, or even pleasant. It’s none of those. No, I was left grinning because of the sheer audacity on display. Aronofsky’s audacity to commit this insanity to celluloid. Paramount’s audacity to actually fund the damn thing. For a major studio to greenlight this ghastly, grisly, blackly humorous nightmare of a film is enough to put a demented grin on anyone’s face.

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