What Darren Aronofsky has done so well in MOTHER! is get to the heart of creation in all of its subjective and emotional shades. It’s frustrating, at times maddening, beautiful, and baffling. So naturally it’s also about unconditional love.
As such, it begins in flames. Out of the ashes a young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) awakens to the remote country house she and her poet husband (Javier Bardem) have just moved into. The only thing stranger than the arrival of a couple (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) is their unwillingness to leave, and the scores of people who soon join them. That said, this bare-bones description seems barely adequate to cover the totality of Aronsfky’s fable.
There’s something reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s psychological thrillers inherent in MOTHER! For a long period of time, we observe what is happening onscreen as the potential byproduct of a fractured mind, one clue being Lawrence’s repeated consumption of a mysterious yellow liquid. Just like Repulsion, the building itself appears to mirror Lawrence’s diminishing control over her situation.
As the allegorical tale progresses, a kind of nightmare logic takes over, where the people Lawrence cares for the most become violent strangers to her. Pfeiffer throws some magnificent shade at Lawrence when the latter suggests some kind of ownership of the house or Bardem. As an audience member, we might want to join Lawrence’s character in screaming frustrated bloody fury at flood of people taking over her space.
That’s because one can’t control the things you love, no more than a creation can be controlled once it has been birthed into the world. As the notion of time become increasingly elastic, diving deeper into the dream fabric Aronofsky is using to weave his tale, the story is about giving everything to someone who is never truly satisfied with it. “Nothing is ever enough,” says Bardem. “I couldn’t create if it was.”
Whether Aronofsky is speaking of himself, to a higher power, or to mothers everywhere remains open to interpretation. If Noah is about the flood narrative of Genesis, then MOTHER! is akin to the creation story. We witness creators delivering their souls to hungry masses, only to watch them destroy it and devour it. Which makes this an incredibly brutal film as well, and will completely divide audiences as to whether Aronfsky has gone too far in pushing his own creations. Whatever the case, it’s unmissable, impossible to look away from, and one of the truly original films of the 21st century.