The Hippo


Jul 17, 2019








Mother! (R)

Mother! (R)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

Mother! (R)

Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem do things — some metaphorical and some allegorical, but most of it tiresome — in Mother!, a film from Darren Aronofsky, who still had some wacky Bible adaptation left in him after Noah.
Jennifer Lawrence’s character, who like all the characters in this movie doesn’t have a real name, is married to Bardem, a writer suffering from writer’s block. She spends her days repairing their house, which was destroyed in a fire. He is frustrated with his inability to write and she is frustrated with his frustration and emotional distance.
Then, a stranger shows up, played by Ed Harris. Harris claims to be a doctor who is temporarily working nearby and was told the house was an inn. Bardem suggests he stay, much to Lawrence’s annoyance. Then his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives, aggravating Lawrence even more. She’s eager to get these people out of her house but Bardem (ever a smiling ball of selfishness, the Great Male Writer mixed with a guy recruiting for his commune) seems increasingly energized by their presence, especially their praise of his writing. 
More people show up, Lawrence realizes she’s pregnant, Bardem finds inspiration and writes a hugely popular book and then, toward the end of her pregnancy, a flood of people arrive to praise Bardem.
This is only generally what happens in Mother!. The movie is less like a story and more like a dream, specifically like a dream where you bumble around searching for your car keys. (It even feels like it’s shot that way. Things are too close or too far and, at times, point-of-view-ishly shot. And like those dreams, time seems to move very slowly.) 
I didn’t know much about this movie going in but I found myself quickly disinclined to like it when, after the opening sequence of the film, I knew exactly how it would end. And the movie unfolded — as far as that particular element is concerned — exactly as expected. This kind of showy trickery in a movie needs to earn its “twist” with some solid plot and characters or at least interesting ideas but this movie doesn’t. It fills the trickery shell with more funny business.
Bardem and Lawrence don’t feel like characters in their own right so much as just vehicles for Mother!’s discussion of God and humanity. (Or, as I’ve seen other reviews discuss, discussion of a marriage relationship though for me that part is secondary to the obvious Bible imagery. There is also a whole man-and-nature thing, which I noticed during the movie and have seen articles since discuss at more length. Basically, you can choose your own “what this is really about” and it will probably work.) Bardem’s character is possibly the closest to having more than just surface; he is as believable as an egotistical writer as he is as He Is That He Is or some mix of the two or something else entirely. Lawrence, on the other hand, is mostly just reaction — to Bardem, to others. She doesn’t appear to have an inner life and even her reactions have that dream-like “wanted to run but couldn’t move” feel. Perhaps this is all intentional, but it doesn’t make for compelling characters you want to keep watching.
There is a lot of repurposing Bible stories and themes in the way you’d think the guy who wrote and directed 2014’s Noah would approach the rest of the Bible. And it’s weird, sure, but not in a particularly thought-provoking way. (Or, at least for me, my thoughts have been about the mechanics of the movie, not about the bigger issues it might be trying to present.)
Or, put another way, Mother! feels like what happens when nobody questions or edits a filmmaker who has auteur status. Your movie might have fancy scenes of a heart that symbolizes the life force of a marriage or a house or a woman ( it could be read several ways) and you might be trying to convey something about the nature of God. But also, it still has to be a movie that gives people some reason to watch it. Mother! feels like a movie meant to show you the artsy things Aronofsky can do more than it’s meant to tell a story or even present ideas with some visual or narrative wit. 
I guess the movie is worth seeing if you’re a die-hard Aronofsky completist. (Although some theatergoers in the screening where I saw this movie would disagree. A few jokingly yelled for their money back when the film was over and I overheard them talking about how they’d liked his previous movies). Or if you just want to see how weird a movie can be and still get a wide release. But as an actual piece of entertainment (even thinky or supposedly highbrow entertainment), Mother! never earns the many gimmicks or the very graphic violence it employs to tell its story, whatever that is. D+
Rated R for strong disturbing violent content (like, seriously violent and very unnecessary; we get that we’re watching a riff on the New Testament, movie, we don’t need to see the math), some sexuality, nudity and language. Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, Mother! is two hours and one minute long and distributed by Paramount Pictures. 


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