Coming home from Mother, the latest from writer/director Darren Aronofsky, feels like recovering from a delirium. I can detail to you with extraordinary precision each scene, but I’m, like, 5% sure of what any of it means. In an exhilarating and dense psychological horror equivalent of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, it seems like Aronofsky is intimating his view of the terrors of fame and creation while showcasing the best filmmaking he’s ever done.
The premise is fairly straightforward, if still esoteric in its purpose. Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and Him (Javier Bardem) are married and living in an isolated house in a seemingly bucolic countryside. He spends his days attempting to fight writer’s block as the shadow of his own success looms tall while she goes about the house renovating it with freshly painted walls and new fixtures.
It’s uneasy how they live and love together, the root of their problems easily smothered by his ignorance of them and her willingness to pretend, but it’s all exacerbated when Man (Ed Harris) shows up one day out of the blue. And this is where the movie really starts to get going from odd little tale of romantic horror to full-blown psychological menagerie as Mother’s hallucinations and tendency for accommodation leads her down a dark path of indulging one tragic inconvenience after the other.
The events that follow are a whirling, overwhelming slice of a reality perverted by a collision of Biblical metaphors and Greek mythology (and really anything that involves creation). This secluded house, for instance, occupied by a single couple is easily interpreted as Eden with each disruption a form of the snake that undid it all. The opening scene of a burning house that seems to only give way to new life plays well into God’s penchant for destruction clearing the way for more construction.
But even locking the movie into these sorts of themes is a disservice. It uses these familiar plights of a nearly broken Gaia and an imbalance of masculine influence on a creation brought equally—if not more—by a feminine being to crack open whatever treasury of interpretations you have inside of you. You can leave it at the surface-level Biblical references (the Ashe Wednesday bit is, like, super on-the-nose), or you can dive deeper into what you see in this Rorschach test of a film.
Is this ongoing and interminable apocalypse about the wedge between an artist’s drive to work and his drive to love? Or maybe it’s how society can only destroy the things they love, the only natural ending to a selfish obsession. Perhaps it’s a singular confession of how men are ignorant to the physical connection and sacrifice inherent in a dedicated relationship for a woman. Personally, I saw most the allegorical parts of fame’s lifecycle and how it destroys and builds a life at the same time, but maybe that’s just what I needed to see most at the time.
It’s also worth mentioning that this is the single most aggressive and unrelenting display of cinematic mastery Aronofsky has ever accomplished. This is a movie that accomplishes the same sensory and psychological overload of an IMAX screen but with raw filmmaking techniques. Consider, for example, that there is no soundtrack.
On the surface, that sounds like nothing of consequence, but Aronofsky has instead decided to crank up the sound levels on every single piece of foley work until the creaks of the walls and breathy sighs of Mother and even the unforgiving silence of the night become the soundtrack. It’s deafening in a way that hits your entire body rather than just your ears.
This aural tactic is an unfamiliar point of ingress for drama, but it works in such a way that the more traditional use of visual metaphors are then more subtly pushed into your brain. The vertical and literal ascension of a character might be also undercut by the grounded taps and scrapes of feet on the floor below them. Or you might start to connect the topic of creation with the accelerated and labored breathing that accompanies it, your own lungs matching pace as it pushes forward through the entire movie.
The biggest unknown, however, is whether or not you’ll like this film at all. It’s expressly Aronofsky making this thing, showing it to you, and then asking you what you see before cutting you off and then saying don’t tell him—tell yourself. If that is a result you can abide after 121 minutes, then this is a singular experience that you can only get at the hands of such a blisteringly surreal filmmaker. And even if not, that doesn’t stop Mother from being an unbelievably ambitious sight to behold.
Now just don’t destroy it along the way.
Final Score: 8 out of 10