I’m not quite sure what to make of Darren Aronofsky’s mother!. On the one hand, I was intrigued by what the writer/director was attempting to do and how he navigated the first half (or two-thirds) of the film. On the other hand, the last third is so bizarre and so disjointed and removed from all semblance of sanity, it’s hard to understand the point of the whole thing. To say the end comes out of left field would be an understatement; it felt like an abandoned child who appears out of nowhere and claims to be related to someone who just won the lottery. Aronofsky has the right to make whatever movie he likes, and he certainly has pushed the boundaries over the years with bizarre, sometimes sickening character studies. This time, though, he may have gone a bit too deep into his own head where he wasn’t quite able to find his way back from the edge of his own self-indulgences.
The film begins with the image of a woman being burned alive. Where she is, and what this means isn’t explained until the very end, but we’re also given a brief look at a house that has also seen the wrong side of a flame. Indicating a clear passage of time, Aronofsky fades the fire-ravaged home into a partially rebuilt abode, complete with Jennifer Lawrence waking to find someone missing from her bed. The next five minutes begin the slow burn oddity of the film’s tone, as Lawrence walks around the house searching for her allusive husband as if she’s never been there before, even though it’s made clear in the next scene that she’s been married to Javier Bardem’s character for an undetermined time and has spent that time rebuilding his home. The scene almost plays with a typical horror movie trope of the damsel in distress slowly searching for the enigmatic killer. Having this at the very beginning of the film makes it feel out of place — that something is a little off. This decision then plays one of two ways — either you’re intrigued to find out why it feels off, or you push away from the film because it already doesn’t make a whole lick of sense.
Once Lawrence reaches the front door and stares out at the openness of the property surrounded by a forest of trees, we finally meet Bardem, credited only as “him”. She’s initially scared by his sudden presence, but the two quickly settle into their respective routines in their quiet, solitary lives — she continues to find the right plaster for the walls, and he searches his mind for words to his next piece of literature (or poetry). The two are supposed to be insanely in love, (well, Lawrence is supposed to be in love with him, at least, especially as he continually disrespects her at every turn), but their chemistry is anything but. Maybe it was the age difference or if the chemistry just wasn’t there, but I never quite believed Lawrence was ever connected to Bardem in that way , which goes against the foremost conceit of the film.
Enter Ed Harris as a supposed doctor who was told Bardem’s home was some sort of Bed and Breakfast. Harris and Bardem hit it off as if they’d known each other for years, and he invites the doctor to stay the night. Lawrence is obviously wary of having a strange man stay with them, especially when she wakes in the middle of the night to see him puking his guts out with a strange wound that Bardem hides from her. The next day, Harris’s wife, Michelle Pfeiffer, shows up on the doorstep, and this is where the true horror of this film comes into play. I mean, who isn’t afraid of the unwelcome houseguests that overstay their welcome!?! I could totally relate to Lawrence’s distaste for this rude, selfish couple, as I hate the idea of anyone who doesn’t have any consideration for your home or your boundaries.
And these two are as disrespectful as they come, leaving the kitchen a mess, smoking inside when it was made clear they shouldn’t, and ignoring Lawrence’s every request, which includes staying out of Bardem’s writing room, where he keeps a precious stone he found after his home was burned down. Eventually, Pfeiffer accidentally breaks the stone (though we can’t be certain it wasn’t intentional) and from then on, everything begins to turn upside down for Lawrence and her once conformable lifestyle. Suddenly the couple’s sons (real-life brothers Brian Gleeson and Domhnall Gleeson) are walking into their life without even knocking; Bardem is inviting a slew of rude, disrespectful people over for a wake; and the script begins to spiral out of control.
It’s hard to talk about this film without giving away any spoilers, but I am going to try. The most I can say is that everything after the unexpected wake feels like an entirely different film — a crazy fever dream where nothing makes sense, removing you from reality. It’s all still connected, mostly by the insanity of what happens and the weird connection Lawrence has to the home, which she believes may have its very own heart, if not just its own heartbeat, but Harris and Pfeiffer prove to have absolutely no purpose (except perhaps to help inspire Bardem) as they go MIA for the last third of the film, making it feel as if you invested in these characters for nothing.
What you’re left with by the time the credits role are a whole lot of questions. Walking out of the theater, I heard a few of the patrons remark how stupid the film was and how it was a waste of their time. And in its own twisted way, that’s sort of the point of this experiment. When every frame is so interpretative, there’s no telling what Aronofsky was actually thinking, which without a doubt will keep plenty of people from enjoying the film. However, taking in the small, odd nuisances of the performances and what the final twist of the film reveals (or doesn’t reveal) made me feel both disrespected for spending so much time with this couple only to be given the finger, as well as appreciation for someone who took a risk, did something different and asks you to decide what the film means. It’s clearly a film that has to be watched multiple times to admire the artistry of it all, but who would want to sit through it again, especially if they were put off by the grotesque ridiculousness? I’ll leave that interpretation up to you.
My Grade: B
Next week, new movies include Kingsman: The Golden Circle, The LEGO Ninjago Movie and Friend Request. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.