mother! movie review: antagonising, violent, nauseating

Stepping into the cinema for Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. I had heard that audiences hated it. I had heard about the intense violence, and I had even postulated to myself on what these heinous acts might be.

I was giddy to finally learn — after months of avoiding spoilers — what made this film so spectacularly unwatchable. I was an idiot.

mother! is a violent and nauseating film that regards its own viewers as sheep who need to experience trauma to understand their own evil. It begs them to empathise, then rips that empathy to shreds. It forces them through 30-minutes of agonising hell only to remind them that they’re the ones to blame for it.

I mean this with all sincerity: absolutely fuck mother!.

At its most basic, mother! is about a husband (Javier Bardem) and wife (Jennifer Lawrence) who work at creating their own version of paradise in a large house in the woods. While the husband writes his poetry, the wife sets about painting the walls, bracing the sinks, cooking the food, and cleaning the house. Then visitors show up, and the idyllic home she has built is placed under threat.

Darren Aronofsky is not known for his soft films. Critical hits like Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan shocked audiences with unerringly intense gore and sex. But these films had purpose. At least after watching them, you felt that, maybe just a little, you better understood how other humans operate.

mother! offers no such reprieve.

The two-hour-long film builds tension slowly, pushing the viewer ever closer to the chaos they know is coming. Through close-ups, stalker-like long takes, and a soundtrack built from the sounds of the creaking house, Aronofsky deftly weaves a film with that manifests the anxiety he intends.

But herein lies the first of the injustices of mother!: while the film is technically sound, its story negates all of the captivating performances, sharp editing, and fascinating cinematography.

Minor spoilers for mother! ahead.

To understand mother! and the intense hatred for it, you have to understand that it’s more than just a story about a woman who finds her world under siege. It’s a biblical allegory in which the husband is God, the mother both Mary and the Earth, and the visitors nasty humans who destroy everything good.

It is through this destruction that Aronofsky forces viewers to experience the most heinous of violent acts. The violence got so intense it spurred on an anxiety attack I managed to control only through rage. As I sat in the cinema, shaking next to a friend who’d grown sickly pale, I felt nothing but unadulterated anger at a filmmaker who made other human beings watch what he had just shown us.

And perhaps I could have forgiven mother! if it elicited actionable rage; if it showed me that I should be angry at the ones destroying our planet or the ones rejecting love. If it showed me, at all, where to focus my energy. Instead, it merely pointed its fingers at the humans that fill up its audience and declared us all the unsavable root of all evil.

And so the bubbling fury in my chest was not productive. It did not spur me on; it just burnt me out.

The entire purpose of art is to make you feel something — and there’s no denying that mother! made me feel as much as I could possibly take. But those feelings were unproductive. They were unceremoniously ripped out of me, and, worse yet, they were directed at Aronofsky rather than his message. I did not leave the theatre ready to save the environment. I was not ready to confront my position on organised religion.

The rage I felt for mother! ended and began with the film and everyone involved. And with myself, for not heeding the advice of those who told me to avoid it all costs.

So please, if you’re undecided on seeing it: don’t spend your money on a film that tells you you’re to blame for the trauma it inflicts upon you.

Feature image: screenshot, “mother! movie (2017) – official trailer – paramount pictures” via Paramount Pictures/YouTube



Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights. sign up

Welcome to Memeburn

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights.