Married couple Mother (Jennifer Lawrence, notably also Aronofsky’s current romantic partner) and Him (Javier Bardem) live in a ramshackle, three-story mansion in the middle of nowhere. Mother spends her days painting the ashen walls and re-installing sinks since the house experienced a disastrous fire a few years prior that only Him, an esteemed poet seeking to make his next masterpiece, survived. The vague names, questionable backstories, and remote setting leave a lot to be answered by the audience, thus allowing metaphorical translations to be truly subjective and consequently divisive. It’s part of what makes mother! so thrilling in its first half: Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer appear as the house’s first unwanted guests, constantly causing turmoil and unsubtly re-enacting biblical scenes such as Cain and Abel and Noah’s Ark (except the flood is people). These, in combination with Mother discovering squishy blood seeping through the house’s floorboards and Him’s unrelenting generosity are only a handful of elements that I attempted interpreting for a larger meaning.
I’m curious what news story really set Aronofsky off to write mother!, because it jumps off the reality-bandwagon pretty drastically. Mother is soon pregnant and graces the guestless house in flowy white slips, caressing her tummy in the sunlight like a true angel. It’s peaceful and gorgeous, and one of the few times the camera isn’t pushed anxiously close to Lawrence’s face. Around the same time of the baby’s due date, Him publishes his newest work, and he attaches much of it’s credit to “the inspiration,” Mother. It’s here where mother! escapes reality entirely, swirling into possibly the most pessimistic depiction of humanity to grace the big screen. The house is swamped with devoted fans, fights break out imitating humanity’s history with warfare, people fight back against law enforcement officers and it evokes memories of recent police brutalities, parts of the house become dedicated to Him-mania, with maniacal religious services and images of Him dedicated to his genius. It’s nothing short of fucking insanity, and Aronofsky’s dedication to the metaphor is honestly enjoyable. I found myself cackling among other audience members at the absurdity taking place, leaning me on the more positive side of this divisive part of mother!.
Because who am I to expect any kind of subtlety from Aronofsky, the director who began his 2006 The Fountain with a quote from the Book of Genesis? Though preposterous to realists, mother!’s transition from Polanski horror beginning to degenerate Von Trier ending is delightful for how absolutely in Aronofsky goes with his self-critique. There’s nothing performance-worthy and the dialogue is mostly Lawrence shouting “What’s going on?” with a camera pressed up to her blood-stained face. It’s never about her or what’s going on; it’s all about Him. It always was.