REVIEW: Surreal Mother! is Open to Interpretation

Paramount Pictures

During a summer in which I’ve been trying to process 18 hours of Twin Peaks on television, I’m either well equipped to understand Mother!, Darren Aronofsky’s new theatrical movie, or I’m too exhausted to understand it.  Both projects attempt to deliver feelings more than they do linear plots, but David Lynch better succeeds.  I think I recognize statements Aronofsky is trying to make or opinions he’s trying to share, but I don’t have the same emotional experience as I do when watching Twin Peaks. Mother! is cold to me.

The plot of Mother! seems straightforward enough, even though it spins wildly in the direction of an episode of The Twilight Zone.  “Mother” (Jennifer Lawrence) is restoring the house of her husband, “Him” (Javier Bardem), that was destroyed in a fire.  He is a famous poet suffering from a bad case of writer’s block ever since, I assume, the fire.  He’s distant and grumpy until “Man” (Ed Harris) arrives on their doorstep claiming he thought their home was a bed and breakfast.

Mother is a little concerned that her husband would invite a stranger to stay with them without first consulting her. However, she’s downright stunned when Man’s wife, “Woman” (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives the next day.  As a bad situation escalates to worse, events happen so fast that Mother can never quite get on the other side of them.  Then Younger Brother (Brian Gleeson) and Oldest Son (Domhnall Gleeson) arrive, bringing violence with them.  Now the circumstances are so beyond her control, Mother is impotent to do anything about them.

The couple fights and we learn that they haven’t been intimate with each other in quite some time. The emotion of the moment drives them to the bedroom where they make up for lost time.  Mother awakens the next morning confident that she’s pregnant.  Indeed, after a time jump, she is visibly heavy with child.  This is when all hell breaks loose and Mother! becomes even more surreal.  That’s saying a lot in a movie that has already presented the house as perhaps a living, breathing creature that has a beating heart and bleeds.

I’d better stop with plot details at this point. I will say that what happens from here to the end of the movie is fascinating, and sometimes difficult, to watch.  The last part of the movie is filled with such excess that I found myself laughing with each further step into insanity that it takes.  Mother is obviously going through a horrible ordeal and Lawrence does a good job expressing that.  Again, though, I didn’t have an emotional connection.  I have to wonder if a woman who has gone through childbirth would have a different experience with it than I did.

What to ultimately make of Mother! is open to interpretation.  I know what I took from it.  But it does not deliver a clever twist ending that guides you toward enlightenment about what happened.  The whole movie is so full of twists and turns that the final two or three scenes fit within all the rest rather than stand out as a beacon of explanation.  Intellectually, I liked it.  Emotionally, I didn’t dislike it.  Do I recommend it?  I do.  However, I know how the general movie going public takes movies like this and I don’t think it will please them.

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