Is it possible to make consistently great movies but still be underrated? With a resume that includes Pi, The Wrestler, and Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky fans may say “yes.” Aronofsky’s films receive numerous awards nominations without fail, yet when great directors are talked about, Aronofsky’s name doesn’t come up often. Perhaps it’s because his films contain subject matter that’s difficult to watch. Requiem for a Dream is a beautiful movie that’s almost perfect. However, it takes resolve to watch it more than once. It’s hard to appreciate a film when you can’t force yourself to watch it a second time.
Already being referred to as one of the most controversial movies of the year, Aronofsky’s mysterious new movie, mother! has been shrouded in secrecy. In the interest of keeping with the director’s wishes, this review will avoid addressing any specific plot points in the movie. Instead, this will be about the acting, writing, and technical aspects of the film.Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer are four of the most decorated actors in Hollywood. All have been nominated for multiple Academy Awards, with Lawrence and Bardem each having won one. With that much star power on the screen it is hard not to worry that someone will get lost in the shuffle. This doesn’t happen in mother! In fact, the opposite occurs. All four play off each other beautifully. A subtle glance, a simple phrase and an innocent exchange are conveyed perfectly. It isn’t long before the audience realizes that everything that’s being said and done is important. The actors make you want to pay attention.
Pfeiffer (who obviously bathes in the blood of virgins to stay young) arguably puts on the performance of her illustrious career. She commands every scene that she is in. Despite her powerhouse performance, her fellow cast keep up. Bardem and Lawrence say more with their eyes than some actors will say in five minute monologues. Harris also does admirably in his role.Excellent camera work has always been a trademark of Arrenofsky’s and mother! is no different. Arrenofsky uses a variety of very effective techniques. There are moments that the audience is treated to an almost over the shoulder camera shot. As the actor move their head so does the camera. This gives a dual sense of uncertainty and adds tension, since we’re seeing what the character does at the exact same time. There are other times when the camera induces a sense of claustrophobia in the audience. The camera is almost taking you on a thrill ride. This doesn’t mean that the camera work is frenetic or jarring. There are also long, slow shots that allow you to take in the moment and catch your breath. The opening and closing visuals are particularly arresting.
Sound is used perfectly in mother! The combination of camera and sound add to gravity of what we are watching. Echoes, reverberations, voices, and bangs are just some of the sounds that are used to maximum effect. A door that creaks ominously as it slowly opens is an old Hollywood standby. In mother! even this classic is successfully used. The moments that lack sound are just effective. The silence builds up anxiety and anticipation. These moments may be the most frightening of the movie.
Without going into the story too much, I can say that the writing is excellent. There is never a word spoken or an action performed that goes against what we know about the characters. Though it doesn’t tell you much, the trailer for mother! does let you know it’s a horror movie. The movie opens with a feeling of tension that remains through its entirety.
That tension makes mother! a terrifying movie that puts the audience constantly in a state of near panic. It doesn’t go easy on the viewer, requiring attention and sure to provoke conversation. mother! shakes the usually forgettable horror genre plot points, instead telling a story that stays with you once the credits roll.
I don’t think I’d be going out on a limb to say that mother! will be the most polarizing movie of the year. With a story that will require multiple viewings to understand, and unsettling imagery, this will be one of those love it or hate it movies. Anyone who decides to pass on this movie based solely on word of mouth is doing themselves a disservice, however. With great direction and acting, along with a thought provoking story, mother! is one of the stronger movies released this year.