Gobsmacked and stricken mute. That’s how the audience I shared the latest Darren Aronofsky film with was as the end credits rolled. Having just experienced a piece of art like that, I’m not really surprised. A beautifully filmed story that leaves itself open to interpretation, it will leave you shaken to the core if you approach it with a clear mind. After having seen the film, I’ve read many reviews of it. Every single one a vastly different approach to the material. And that is why it’s such an important artistic work.
I was concerned going into the film for an odd reason. Aronofsky’s body of work is extremely personal. I’ve only seen other of his films in the theater. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to share that experience with a crowd that may not appreciate what was laid before them. Now having had seen it in the theater though, I’m glad of the experience. Yes, it was risky opening so wide to a populace that may not be ready for the chaotic laid tableau, but given the conversations it has started, it had to be worth the gamble.
mother! at its heart is a simple story. A wife and her poet husband live in an old country manor that they are restoring several years after a devastating fire. They live a quiet life as the poet struggles to get back to the work that led him to success and ultimately his adoring and beautiful young wife. Their quiet and solitude is shattered when they are visited by a traveling doctor looking for a room to rent. The poet husband takes to the aging doctor amicably and quickly invites him in, without discussing with his wife. As she finally starts to become okay with this arrangement, the doctor’s own wife shows up, moving in as well.
After excessive affection in front of their hosts, the guests soon become more of a burden as a full family drama explodes in the house. Now, where there were only two people, there is barely room to walk as more and more people arrive. While attention is first towards the doctor and his family, once they are finally expelled, our poet is stricken with inspiration. Previously barren of words, he erupts with a literate explosion. And from here, the fireworks of chaos ignites.
The acting performances from the main four actors are all extremely solid. Ed Harris is wonderful as the kind, but over bearing doctor. Michelle Pfeiffer is intimidating as his overtly sexual panther of a wife. And Javier Bardem is a powerhouse as usual, with the ability to quietly smolder and bombastically combust, going between the two extremes without notice. And we also receive an electric and disturbing role from PONTYPOOL’s Stephen McHattie as the ever sneering Zealot.
But our main focus is on Jennifer Lawrence’s Mother character. And here, my friends, I can’t continue without discussing spoilers. So if you’ve not seen this film, please tread lightly from this point forward. Many are comparing her to the Holy Mother, with her pregnancy and the birth as part of the prophecy. The fate of her child is a grisly one, not unlike that of most martyrs. This is not a noble role, one in which we can uphold as a bastion of feminism. Sadly, while she is an extremely important piece to this puzzle, she comes across more as an object. In this case, I feel she represents the creative vessel an artist uses.
In the beginning, she is pale and muted, with little to her but to care for her poet. He is mourning the past love and adoration from his work, not fully appreciating the support in front of him. As conflict arises, she is starting to come to life in fits and bursts. The guests act as both sparks and distractions. With the expulsion of their guests and a shedding of blood, his creativity and her womb grow. As things gestate, both his story and their child, his fame begins to rise. The poet is willing to let his spirit and family bleed for his readers to love him again. He is both wanting to help mend people’s broken spirits but is also feeding off of their adoration, while Mother, the vessel, is merely trying to protect what they have created together. Ultimately, he lets things grow too wildly and close to the sun and his wife, house, and creativity burn to the ground. The poet sifts through the ashes, mourning the loss of his creation, his muse and vessel all in one, only to start afresh, laughing maniacally as he chases that feeling once more with his next work of art.
While I know that my opinion and interpretation of this film is just one of many, it fills my heart with glee knowing that it is true, maybe just to me, but true nonetheless. And for a piece of cinema to instill that in its viewer, that is true success.