Have you ever exited a theater, eyes adjusting to the bitter sunlight of the outside world, and wondered quietly to yourself, “what the hell did I just watch?”
Of the many unexceptional films set to release in 2017, there was one that held a particularly captive grasp on my interest, that of “mother!” From the initial trailers, the film looked to be one of the few seemingly promising, unique movies of the year, both in quality and in content.
“mother!” is the work of writer-director Darren Aronofsky, best known for “Black Swan” and “Requiem for a Dream.” Aronofsky’s dark, challenging films have solidified the director a personal favorite within the psychological genre. “mother!” seemed to be Aronofsky’s attempt at a return to serious cinema after his horrendously epic flop “Noah” — based upon the biblical story — crashed in 2014. The film appeared to be a return to the eerie, unnerving films for which Aronofsky is best known.
The film centers on an unnamed woman and her unnamed husband — played by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem respectively — and is set in a large, menacing mansion. Like “Forrest Gump” or “The Usual Suspects,” “mother!” is one of the many films where the audience is shown the final act as the opening. It was during this opening scene, where one sees a charred Lawrence crying and a chuckling Bardem holding a magical crystal, where the confusion begins.
It is truly hard to describe the plot line of this film, not because doing so would reveal important aspects of the movie, but because the film itself thrives upon being unexplainable. Much like Natalie Portman’s descent into madness in “Black Swan,” we find Lawrence plagued by unexplained, confusing and otherwise otherworldly events, each making less sense than the previous and each taking the film in an entirely new direction. It is physically unsettling to be so desperately confused by a film, and “mother!” supplied constant uneasiness throughout. The sort of prolonged cliffhanging shown in “mother!” was executed mostly with success, though the film certainly drifted from a coherent plotline many times throughout.
Peaking with what could easily be considered the most intentionally nonsensical climax ever filmed, “mother!” crosses rather unfortunately and swiftly from the realm of potentially well-executed psychological thriller into the try-hard indie horror trope so many directors before Aronofsky have executed poorly. This wild leap into craziness, complete with sudden jump scares and unnecessary gore thrust the film towards its own demise. The climax of the film is as incredibly gruesome as it is ill-fitting within the movie itself. Whenever Kristen Wiig — professional comedian and Saturday Night Live alum — appears randomly in a movie wielding a shotgun, and it’s supposed to be frightening, the film is struggling. The final seconds of “mother!” leave the viewer on an attempted gut-wrenching plot twist, yet one that ultimately lacks the final punch necessary to weave the previous two hours together.
The pieces were all there. The film featured several famous actors and a notable director. The setting and cinematography were beautiful. The home in which the film is set seamlessly blended a frightening, yet ultimately luxurious vibe. The concept of the film itself was certainly workable: a stereotypically bland housewife is subjected to horrendous events repeatedly at the hands of those around her. However, the execution of the film itself was simply lackluster. “mother!” leaves much to be desired. As the credits roll, one is forced to wonder where the last two hours have gone. In the midst of one’s utter confusion, a response to the film is difficult to summon. In my case, the only words I could muster were “Oh wow!” and not entirely in a positive manner. For those interested in a truly peculiar and distinct film experience, see “mother!” and share in the confusion.