Mother!: An unsettling, misunderstood masterpiece we just don’t deserve

If you want a break from cheap entertainment, go watch ‘Mother!’


Rahul Aijaz September 23, 2017
PHOTO: FILE

Before the massively anticipated release and after the preview screenings of Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!, it was called the most divisive and controversial film since Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange in 1971. Being only one of the less-than-twenty films to receive an ‘F’ by the audience on Cinemascore, Mother! has already gained the hype that not many other films in recent memory have. Similar to A Clockwork Orange being a cult classic, Mother! has already started to gain a modern cult following. But is it worth the hype?

Mother! revolves around a poet (Javier Bardem) suffering from writer’s block, and his wife, the titular mother (Jennifer Lawrence) who live in a house countryside, and whose lives are disrupted when uninvited guests crowd their house. Anyone familiar with Aronofsky’s work understands his obsession with the universe and its creation. His last outing, Noah, which also caused controversy among religious groups, put forth an interesting take on the biblical tale. On the other hand, Mother! deals with topics far larger than Noah. It encompasses the entire history of creation and humankind’s impact on earth.

It takes a true auteur like Aronofsky to engulf all the major events described by Christianity (and Islam) into a span of two hours. The metaphors, upon a closer look, are obvious – from the creation of Adam and Eve to the Great Flood and even Christ’s sacrifice.

As far as my understanding goes, the film has mainly divided the audience into two categories: those who did not understand the bigger themes and were left confused, and those who thought the allegories were too obvious and made the narrative predictable. Yours truly falls under the latter category. Although it may be argued that the literal progression of the story was more interesting than the metaphorical, yet, neither the predictability factor nor the familiarity with metaphors hampered the experience for one second.

This is thanks to Aronofsky and cinematographer Matthew Libatique’s command on the story they wanted to tell and boy, did they. Aronofsky’s longtime collaborator once again proves why he’s the best person to translate his vision on screen. The cinematography dictates how we see the events unfold through mother’s perspective. We see the conflict between God and Earth – the former’s narcissism, forgiving nature, and desperation for acceptance and worship, and the latter’s love for God and life itself.

If this is too much to take in, forget about it. The film works on its surface level as well. Forget the allegorical narrative and the existential ideas and solely focus on the narrative at hand and the film still delivers on every level. No film or work of art has captured, gripped and tied me to the seat more than Mother! in recent memory. It’s more horrifying than most other horror films, and it’s more thrilling than any thrillers you’ve seen in years.

Sure, Mother! is disturbing. It is too unsettling for most casual, mainstream movie consumers. But I would still suggest one go watch this film. It was Danish film-maker Lars von Trier who once said, “A film should be like a stone in your shoe.” There’s no mild way to state this but Mother! will be like a glass in your rib. Its imagery will provoke you. It will hold a mirror to yourself, not as a part of labelled cast, religion or culture, but as a human and what we are doing to ‘mother earth’. It may or mayn’t give you new ideas, but will effectively remind you of the ones that already exist.

In terms of performances, Bardem and Lawrence shine brighter than ever. Bardem has always been brilliant, and here, he delivers an emphatic performance as the self-centered artist who craves attention. And Lawrence proves why she’s the favorite of the Academy. She will howl and growl and stun you as ‘mother’ and gives the most impressive performance of her career. Veteran actors Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeifer also come in strong as the supporting cast, especially the latter with her combination of exquisiteness, and conniving and intrusive character.

You will also notice an absence of soundtrack in the film. Although Johann Johannsson’s unique and moody sound design breathes new life in ‘mother’. His score enhances the subtly creeping uneasiness of the film’s atmosphere.

Lastly, despite its clear themes, the crafty execution makes the film open to interpretation. You can dig in as deep as you like and you would find new elements to ponder over with every viewing. It’s a deeply disconcerting and misunderstood masterpiece (just like many other radical, artistic experiments) and perhaps Aronofsky’s boldest work since The Fountain – and if I may say, it’s the magnum opus we don’t deserve yet.

Verdict: If you want a break from cheap entertainment and want an experience unlike anything you have ever before, go watch Mother!. Give it a shot and whether or not you like it, not only will it surprise you, it will open your doors to a different kind of cinema – the kind we here are not used to.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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