It’s no secret the storied life of Jennifer Lawrence. She was and is one of the unlucky bunch who has had her life infiltrated by fandom, filled with people seemingly dead set on wanting pieces of her life for their own reasons. Such was one of the things I learned after the unceremonious leaking of private photos all over Reddit. The disgusting phenomenon dubbed “The Fappening” tore into Lawrence and many others’ lives with no remorse, like TMZ had just been stabbed with pure adrenaline. What mother! tries, sometimes to diminishing returns, to explore is the fanaticism that can lead to the undoing of such a person in the unrelenting public eye.
In Darren Aronofsky’s oeuvre, text is mostly just text. His eye for visuals backs up that text like a slapdash college essay. Although the citations are made, the man has the tendency to stretch his thesis across the whole film, suffocating whatever ideas may sprout along the way. In the case of mother!, things are no different. While I may be reading the film primarily from a viewpoint on celebrity fandom and sensationalism, it’s no accident that he conflates that same fandom with religious fervor.
The less you know about mother! going into it, the better. The advertisements are scant on details by design. The slightest spoiler has the ability to send your brain looking for things that are already there in front of your face. Again, text is text. There is no foreshadowing. There are visual cues and moments meant to allude to the viewer even though they end up bludgeoning the audience. It’s not that Aronofsky doesn’t think the audience is smart enough to pick up what he’s putting down; it’s that the push and pull between building his yarn and becoming lost in it is too strong.
While many other films of this same thread go for the cheaper narrative mechanics, like pulling a curtain down to reveal a more disturbing truth, mother! opts to let you in on its own secret in the opening frames. The thrill comes from finding out how those frames came to be. Requiem for a Dream showed a fast delineation of human nature’s worst vices. mother! shows multiple delineations, constantly vacillating between climax and normalcy. Climax to Aronofsky can be something simple, like a person breaking the tension by snarling, or it can be immensely complicated, requiring a sprawling schema. In this case, the cast is game for whatever.
Please don’t misconstrue my criticisms for plain old negativity towards Aronofsky’s game. Few filmmakers are given the budget and freedom to make something so jet set on being revolting. Exploitation is his game and god bless him for that. Sure, you may have a firm grip on what kind of message he’s trying to get across by the end of the first act but I’d be remiss to find someone working today that also takes this much pleasure in throwing nastiness in the audience’s faces.
mother! is primarily told from the point of view of Jennifer Lawrence’s character, who shall go unnamed for a myriad of reasons. Her relationship with Javier Bardem’s beguiling poet husband constantly has strain put upon it when strangers show up in their new home unannounced. Her hospitality wears off much faster than his, let’s just say that.
Cinematographer Matthew Libatique’s work here needs some kind of special acclaim for portraying Lawrence’s character’s plight as coldly as Aronofsky does. The camera work wants to envelop you in the madness, and oh boy does it. There’s nary a shot that’s meant to be shown as some kind of semiotic beauty in your next Facebook profile’s cover photo but yet, everything seems so perfectly composed. Lawrence’s character is always in the center of the frame and the camera always shows exactly what you’re supposed to see at any given time. There’s a self-reflexivity in the technique here that I can’t remember seeing in Aronofsky’s prior work. Not enough to signal to the audience that the filmmaker is completely in on the joke but just enough to make things cheekier. After all, it is a two-hour saga about misdirected pain and suffering.
You should see mother! not only because of its sheer audacity but its complete inability to calm down. Aronofsky has almost always been an oddball but this completely cements him as being one of the biggest fuckboys working in the mainstream right now. It’s an ephemeral rush of biblical proportions.