I thought Mother! was alright. It’s by no means a great film, but I found that it fails in a fun way.
I do not like Darren Aronofsky, though I like some of his films. I haven’t even seen Requiem for a Dream. My brother is pretty good at anticipating my taste, and back when it came out he told me that he was 100% positive I would hate it and that I would consider it a waste of time. I will probably go back and see it sooner or later but part of the reason I never did is that it is often lumped in with the general constellation of Fincher/Nolan cinebro excrement. I also really can’t stand watching Jared Leto onscreen. I shrugged at Pi and disliked The Wrestler, which is saying something, because it’s pretty hard to make a Mickey Rourke movie that I don’t like. I kinda sorta admired The Fountain’s wonkiness but I wouldn’t say I liked the movie. I definitely enjoyed Black Swan. It’s hilarious and Vincent Cassel is amazing. I’m not sure Aronofsky intended it as a comedy and I would rather not know, but if he meant it seriously that probably would make it even funnier. I also thoroughly enjoyed Noah, which is a very fun great big campy bizarro blockbuster that antagonizes Christian audiences in an entertaining way.
I was initially disinterested in Mother!. I read that Anthony Bourdain was touting it as a masterpiece, which made me even less interested. What caught my attention was the F it received from CinemaScore. This is a good sign. Only 19 movies have achieved this rating and most of them are pretty interesting. William Friedkin’s Bug and Richard Kelly’s The Box are great films. Wolf Creek and In the Cut are damn good. Several others are decent. Mother! is in good company. After writing a recent piece suggesting that movies that are met with hatred are more likely to be interesting than movies met with bland widespread approval, several people pushed me to see it and I finally got the chance today.
I read a couple reviews before writing this. I found the New Yorker review—like pretty much all film criticism in the New Yorker—to be obnoxiously written and devoid of worthwhile insight. Straightforward feminist critique is a pretty dense reaction to a movie that features a group of people kicking and beating a woman while yelling misogynist expletives. The issue with Mother! is not that it has an unreflective gender problem, it’s that its feminism is so trite and heavy handed. I learned from the New Yorker review that Aronofsky claims the movie is about mother nature. That’s really fucking stupid and I wish I never heard it.
Here’s what I liked about the movie: it pairs a grimy 70’s grindhouse aesthetic with an ultra-abrasive take on the familiar trope of people continuing to show up well past the point of absurdity (the most famous instance in film is probably the Marx Brothers’ Night at the Opera). It borrows from Bunuel’s Viridiana in an interesting way. I didn’t realize that Michelle Pfeiffer was in the movie and I was delighted when she showed up. She’s fantastic, easily the high point of the whole thing. I enjoyed the Adam/Eve/Cain/Abel interlude. The nonstop closeup tracking shots are disorienting and often detract from the film’s legibility, but I actually enjoyed the overall effect when paired with the generally overwhelming abrasiveness. I was amused by the transgressive shock tactics at the end, though as pregnancy horror it doesn’t even begin to compete with Bustillo and Maury’s 2007 horror masterpiece Inside/À l’intérieur, which is light-years better than Mother! and considerably more disturbing.
Here’s what I didn’t like about the movie: it’s thematically trite and relentlessly heavy-handed. I was hoping it was going to back away from the theme of the artist’s craving for adoration (as a metaphor for God’s desire to be worshipped, apparently) and just lean into the absurdist horror, but no. The visual metaphor of the crystallized heart is cringe-worthy and the feminist critique of muse-fetishism has been done a hell of a lot better… Albert Brooks’ The Muse, anyone? The domesticity as self-sacrifice stuff is also pretty damn worn out.
And so in conclusion: Mother! is nowhere near as good as some of the other movies that achieved the F benchmark from CinemaScore, but unlike most of the crap at the multiplex, it’s at least something that will get your attention. It’s committed. I don’t recommend it, nor do I recommend against it.