REVIEW: “mother!”

mother poster

Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” opens with Javier Bardem sifting through the ashes of a burnt out farmhouse and finding a large jewel. He places it on a mantle and within seconds the house is restored. The charred remains give way to a house of color and life. But what does it all mean? Suffice it to say it’s the first of many bits of imagery that makes this more than a routine thriller.

Seemingly divisive by design, “mother!” is unquestionably an Aronofsky movie. I usually find that to be a cause for hesitation, but “mother!” managed to get its hooks in me unlike any of his past films. And it may not be the smoothest ride from start to finish but it does offer plenty to sink your teeth into and ponder afterwards.

It doesn’t take long to notice that “mother!” places symbolism and allegory ahead of plot and character. It quickly becomes an exercise in interpreting Aronofsky’s code instead of following a particular story. For Aronofsky it was an idea birthed from personal rage and his movie allows him to explore it through biblical and environmental metaphors galore. When the pieces fit it makes for some clever yet not always effective messaging.


Bardem’s character, listed only as ‘Him’ in the credits, is a poet with a severe case of writer’s block while Jennifer Lawrence plays ‘Mother’, his wife and muse. From the moment Lawrence’s Mother gets out of bed in the opening moments the camera never leaves her side. It follows her around the house using close-ups, over-the-shoulder shots, or shooting her point of view. And other than a couple of brief stops on the front porch, the entire film takes place within their remote Victorian country house.

The film starts with an illusion of normalcy but it slowly unravels beginning with the appearance of Ed Harris. He plays a sickly orthopedic surgeon new to the area. His wife pops up shortly after. She’s played by a wonderfully toxic-tongued Michelle Pfeiffer. The once brooding poet who spent his days staring at a blank page is reinvigorated by their attention and invites the couple to stay. Mother is frustrated by the intrusion and equally upset at her husband’s apathy towards her wishes.

From there things go bananas as the movie gives itself completely to its allegories. It all culminates in a psychotic fever dream of a final act that sees Aronofsky unleashing every ounce of his tortuous fury on Lawrence and her character. In what plays like a relentless symbolic montage of worldly horror and human suffering, the camera still never leaves Mother’s side. It’s an intensely demanding performance and a heavy load Lawrence is asked to carry. And she received a Razzie nomination for it? Give me a break.


Production designer Phil Messina is tasked with visualizing another of the film’s key characters – the house. Like Lawrence, the large country farmhouse is represented in every shot and had to be designed with that in mind. The narratively essential home was constructed in Montreal, Canada, partially on a set in a field and the rest on a stage. It was meticulously crafted with mood and movement in mind and was shot by Aronofsky regular Matthew Libatique.

You’ll find clever little touches with symbolic meaning everywhere in the movie. For instance there are several surreal moments where Mother places her hands on the walls checking the heartbeat of the home. Also, mysterious wounds begin to appear around the house. Not all of it makes sense (what is that urine colored Alka-Seltzer she drinks from time to time?) and the final 20 minutes dances dangerously close to unbearable. But that’s kind of the point.

Once movies leave their creators’ hands they often become their own thing. “mother!” benefits from that truth. While Aronofsky has a pointed personal meaning behind it, what you bring to the film will help define it for you. That is its coolest strength and it’s what kept me glued to the screen. Sure, it’s a bit self-indulgent and esoteric to a fault. But it’s also a rare slice of Aronofsky that I found surprisingly satisfying.



31 thoughts on “REVIEW: “mother!”

  1. I’m slacking with my film watching lately. I still haven’t seen ‘Mother’. There has been some very different reactions to this film. You’ve made some great points here without spoiling stuff, and you’ve given me a little reminder that I still need to see this.

    • Man it’s a crazy movie. Are you an Aronofsky fan? I tend to recoil a bit from his films but found myself really engaged with this one. Felt I needed to see it twice before even attempting a review. Glad I did.

      • Yeah I like the director. I think he’s great, but still wouldn’t say I’m a die hard fan. Requiem for a Dream blew me away, and I thought The Wrestler was excellent. Black Swan was pretty good too. And you watched it twice? Interesting.

      • I did. It’s not an easy movie to digest. There is so much allegory and symbolism. But it was really fun putting it together during second viewing. But I can definitely see why some people would have a much different response to it.

  2. It’s a fucked-up and messy film but it’s a lot of fun to watch. I know there were moments in the film that were seriously but I found myself laughing in those scenes. It’s bonkers but that’s part of the joy of it. I just hope Aronofsky makes something smaller next time around.

  3. Unapologetically Arofonsky. I really went for this, despite the insane cruelty visited upon Mother (and us) late down the stretch. I love the term “fever dream”, don’t know why. It both sounds cool and encapsulates this movie entirely.

  4. Nice review Keith. I kind of liked Mother but thought the film was still kind of a mess. Lawrence and Bardem certainly deliver strong performances, but Aronofsky isn’t subtle about the biblical imagery. A lot of its derision is undeserved, but still Mother was an incomplete film.

    • I agree it isn’t subtle, but I really appreciated how it was delivered (even though admittedly messy). I felt that while obvious, it still could be defined in several ways depending on the perspective you bring to it. I think that is what made this an Aronofsky movie I actually liked.

  5. Good to see a positive rating here, man. I really responded to Mother! I thought it was brilliant and I was very surprised at the backlash it took. One of the best film’s of the year for me.

    • Oh I went for it man. I was impressed with the sheer audacity of the whole thing. I’m not a big Aronofsky guy (are you?) but I thought he delivered something pretty cool here.

      • I went for it too, man. It was a very brave and bold film. He pulled it off, though.

        Yeah, I’ve always been quite partial to Aronofsky but I had overlooked Noah and started forgetting all about him… until now. He’s back on my radar again and I’ll get around to Noah at some point.

      • I would say don’t bother with “Noah” but that’s just me. I found it to be a goofy, annoying, self-indulgent mess. I basically felt Aronofsky’s “vision” for it sniffed out any good parts.

  6. A fantastic review, Keith. My thoughts were more mixed on this movie but I appreciated many elements. It’s a travesty that Lawrence received a Razzie nomination.

  7. Good review Keith. I was really looking forward to this experience. One of the most anticipated last year. but i was a let down. am thinking that there was too much of Jennifer Lawrences expressions and point of view throughout, that by the climax, the story felt exhausted rather than built for an impactful finish. Maybe if they had distributed attention to the other characters, and have it all come together at the end.if that makes sense.

    • It certainly is an unusual movie and one that opens itself up to scrutiny. I find it hard to argue against many of the more common problems people have had with it. It’s just that kind of movie.

    • I can see it being hated. It seems like that kind of film. I too like Lawrence’s performance. The Razzie nomination is utter nonsense.

  8. I liked Lawrence’s work, sound and the production design but overall this was so poorly written. Self-indulgent and so pretentious, Aronofsky cannot write half as good as he directs

  9. I have mixed feelings about Mother! I think it was a little too settle compared to how quickly it escalated. The end was disturbing. However, It stuck with me, and I kept thinking about the message of the movie. What did it all mean? I still have not figured it out. Aronofsky was written all over it, and the cinematography was superb. I agree with you, there have been a lot of unanswered questions. Great Review!

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