In the Christian church, pastors will often say “our God” is a forgiving God, an altruistic God and an accepting God. But you’ll also hear that He (with a capital “H”) can be a temperamental God, a formidable God and a jealous God.
Darren Aronofsky, writer and director of “mother!,” wants his film to say something about the latter.
In a secluded Victorian-era house, we meet the loving “mother” (Jennifer Lawrence) and her husband (Javier Bardem), a poet suffering from a writer’s block — neither of whom are given actual names. Although it’s a little lonesome around their estate, everything is fairly peaceful and they have each other — but as the camera constantly peers to her face, mother’s demeanor always says otherwise. There’s this perpetual unnerving look that keeps us uncertain.
And then there’s the doctor (Ed Harris) who mysteriously appears out of nowhere, or rather “the dawn of man” — Harris’s character is actually credited simply as “man” — in keeping with the film’s religious metaphors. And, as if manifesting from the man’s rib, a woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) appears on their doorstep.
From there, the slow degeneration of peacefulness and the rotting of the couple’s relationship and home begins.
At the Venice Film Festival, Aronofsky said the story was conceived out of “a lot of rage and anger, and I wanted to channel it into one emotion” — and that intent is palpable throughout his new film.
The people that barge inside the house in increasing numbers are not the type you want as guests. They lack any sense of decorum, walk into rooms you specifically told them not to go in, peek at and steal your personal belongings and could possibly be cannibals. (But only when it’s for their cult, of course.)
“mother!” is pessimistic in regards to people’s nature. They’re irrational, angry, selfish and overflowing with gluttonous and lustful appetites; but they’re also lonely, lost and seeking guidance. It’s “the sound of humanity” as He — the poet who takes on a godlike role — puts it.
But their sins have escalated to the point where not even He can offer them salvation.
Aronofsky has told biblical tales before, when writing and directing “Noah” in 2014, but religion is effused more subtly as an undertone in “mother!” — so it may not be obvious to everyone as to which biblical characters each person plays if you don’t stick around for the credits.
By writing and directing “Noah,” Aronofsky has revisited the Bible for his tale but effuses its influence more subtlety as an undertone, so it may not be obvious to everyone as to which biblical characters each person plays if you don’t stick around for the credits.
Fortunately, keeping the characters nameless and making them only identifiable either through their familial positions, occupations, or characteristics (such as “wife” or “doctor”) allows “mother!” to be open to interpretation. And this makes the film all the more mystifying.
But whether you think Aronofsky’s film is an environmental allegory, a biblical one or think there’s nothing to it at all is not entirely critical — because either way, you will feel convinced of the hell that he has decided to portray inside the couple’s home.
When people bombard the writer and mother’s lives, Lawrence maintains the helplessness and meekness of a secluded stay-at-home wife so well and so much so that it becomes frustrating. You wish she would say something or scream at everyone and everything, but she keeps it to herself — waiting for the right moment to explode.
And it’s become increasingly clear, with “No Country for Old Men,” “Skyfall” and even his minor role in “Collateral,, that Bardem’s presence on the silver screen is more than welcome. While he can portray the benevolence of a forgiving deity, Bardem also has the deep guttural voice of what many would imagine an angry Old Testament God to sound like. When he yells, “Quiet!” Harris, Pfeiffer and Lawrence all damn well know when to shut up.
Some may respond to Aronofsky’s new film thinking it to be an excessive use of his poetic license. But with “Pi,” “Requiem for a Dream,” “Black Swan” and now “mother!” under his directorial belt, we should trust Aronofsky to explore biblical themes or just how twisted we can be through whichever means he thinks necessary.