Darren Aronofsky's latest work, mother!, might just be the year's most polarizing film.
At first glance, the film has a rather unoriginal plot: the tranquil existence of a couple is disturbed by strangers. The movie is branded as a horror-thriller and at times, with the blood and the moments of eerie silence, it sends chills up the spine. In truth, it is not so much a horror-thriller than it is a revelation, and reminder, of humankind.
We're first introduced to a couple, Him (Javier Bardem) and Mother (Jennifer Lawrence), that leads a relatively normal life. Him was a famous author but has now moved on from the life of a creative, and Mother is only ever seen renovating the house. One day, a man, Man (Ed Harris) and his wife, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrive asking for a place to stay. Man claims he is a huge fan of Him's work and while Mother is hesitant, Him eagerly invites the older couple to stay.
What proceeds is a series of events disturbing and shockingly realistic. Aronofsky treads lightly on the classic horror formula, but successfully adds twists and turns that have a purpose higher than just to scare, in a film reminiscent of Rosemary's Baby. For example, the house resembles a presumably dying heart that is only hinted by occasional blood spots on the floor, and the older couple is joined by their two grown-up sons (Domhnall Gleeson and Brian Gleeson) that not only wreak havoc on the silent house, but render Mother practically insane, as the film becomes a metaphor.
On the surface, mother! is a strange film and one that does not divulge all its secrets after one viewing. Instead, it is a polarizing allegory that challenges traditional gender roles, love and one's boundaries.
Mother is the sustenance that Him needs to keep going. Even if he's not creating anymore, he still thrives on encouragement, a certain praise that Mother readily gives. Mother portrays an innocence, which becomes cracked and broken as more and more people arrive to destroy her mind, body, and literally, soul. Aronofsky creates a clear contrast between each of the characters to emphasize the disparity between good and evil, a theme prevalent in Christian stories: Man, Woman, the two sons and even Him are evil outright, but Mother is evil for being so pure.
mother! is also a story about God and humanity all in one. Every character represents a part of God's nature. Him, for instance, loves humanity so much that he lets it kill his own son (and forgives it!). While Mother is level-headed and the only one that can see through the chaos, she becomes damaged because of it. The other characters, Man, Woman and the two sons, represent the dark corners of humanity that we sometimes find ourselves falling into.
Because this film focuses heavily on emotion, it relies mostly on the actors. Lawrence wears a lot of white and for good reason: She's the dove among the sea of blackbirds. She talks softly and holds herself with a kind of grace not present in Pfeiffer. She's beautiful, she's elegant and she's fragile. Bardem is brilliant as Him; he successfully shows a duality that is not only convincing but utterly terrifying as his soft and humane character slowly spirals into someone, something, more volatile.
Likewise, Harris and Pfeiffer portray people as being a little too pushy, a little too nosy and a little too apologetic to be up to no good. And the Gleesons, real-life brothers, are 10 times worse.
With its close-up shots and grotesque imagery, mother! may feel claustrophobic. But it's awesome and gross and weird, and exactly everything that Aronofsky is known for and delivers every time.