In his first film since 2014, Darren Aronosky returns with a twisted, subversive but rather unsatisfying metaphorical, angry film on life, God and everything in between. Aronofsky is a perfect example of a filmmaker who has a singular vision that is presented in its full auteur form without pandering to the audience or attempting to sprinkle in crowd-pleasing elements for sole box office reasons. But the result is not satisfying because – as the metaphors go by, the characters become thinner and the story stumbles in properly connecting the dots.
It must be noted though that such bold, daring filmmaking should be something to celebrate. Very few filmmakers are able to bring such a unique vision to films backed by big studios, so it’s a pleasant surprise to see such a polarizing film get made. And while Arronofsky is in full command of the film’s technical aspects, and they are quite stellar, the story ends up as an underdeveloped, bizarre yet intriguing reflection on religion, today’s world and possibly what the future may hold.
A stellar cast (Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris) are not given much of a chance to shine simply because as great as they are, the viewer cannot connect with their thinly written characters and strange dialogue. Pfeiffer especially could have been a standout character if she actually had one – the film barely creates backstories for its characters and their actions go on unexplained until the third act where the big reveal takes place and the strange incidents start becoming more of an integral part of the big metaphor that Aranofsky is very keen on presenting.
This metaphorical structure is not complex, as the film’s final moment make it quite clear what everything that preceded it was a symbol for, but it comes on the expense of the story rather than aid it. As the strange incidents keep unraveling, one is left but to wonder whether Aronofsky’s purpose was to deliver more shock value or a deep examination of our world today with its social media fever, self-centered attitudes, human indifference and the socio-political issues that plague it. It is an interesting though, and one that should make the film a key topic of conversation when it opens in cinemas, but a better story structure and less shallow characterization would have made it land better and the pieces would have been placed together with a bigger impact and less perplexing results.
One of the film’s standout aspects is its exquisite cinematography which gives Mother! its necessary mood, atmosphere and haunting look that sucks in viewers into the story’s twists and turns. Dim and dark for the most part, cinematographer Matthew Libatique excels at delivering great lensing that is both subtle and perfectly moody. Editor Andrew Weisblum maintains viewers’ attention in the story through swift edits that help make the story – with all its bizarre elements – progress in an engaging manner. Production Designer Philip Messina does unshowy but solid work here while Sound Editor Simon Poudrette captures the sounds that give its film its haunting feel and makes the experience of watching it unforgettable.
Verdict: An ambitious film that creates an experience that will divide audiences. A commendable thoughtful exercise in metaphorical cinema but it consumes much of its running time in metaphors and spends very little on characterization that could have made it more accessible.