Weekend Watch: “Mother!” is shocking and unconventional

Promotional image for "Mother!" starring Jennifer Lawrence

When a film comes out that dares to defy convention in shocking, confusing, or dissatisfying manner, controversy is bound to spring from the polarized audience reaction. Darren Aaronofsky has a history of creating controversial movies such as “Noah” and “Black Swan,” and his new film “Mother!” is no different.

“Mother!” stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a couple in a secluded, peaceful home that becomes disrupted when unexpected visitors start invading the house.

Watching this film is like experiencing a dream, and deciphering it often feels like making sense of a dream. Nothing is literal and everything is symbolic of something bigger. There are strange occurrences that increase until your peaceful dream becomes a horrific nightmare that you wake up from screaming. Like a dream-turned-nightmare, this movie will disturb and unsettle many people. I certainly will never be able to wring some of the film’s images from my mind.

“Mother!” has many pieces that fit together, and there’s biblical allegory that goes along with it. That isn’t to say that Aronofsky is trying to preach a Christian message here (though the message isn’t inherently anti-religious either), but references to religion serve as one piece of a narrative that comments on the nature of the world. If you pay attention to every detail, you may be able to piece the message together. If not, you will find yourself trying to make sense of it hours after the credits roll.

The camerawork is intimate and suffocating, with many shots consisting of a single close up of one character. There are a few wide shots here and there for momentary relief, but overall, the cinematography inspires claustrophobia in the mind. This gives special importance to the acting, which is thankfully well executed by everyone involved.

Lawrence has been stuck in a rut since playing Katniss in “The Hunger Games”, starring in similar roles ever since. “Mother!” is a chance for her to spread her wings as an actress, and she runs with it, giving some of her best acting in years. There’s nothing in her performance that totally wows or makes you forget it’s Lawrence, but it’s nice change of pace from her typical female action hero role.

Anyone who has seen “Rosemary’s Baby” will notice immediately the similarities between it and “Mother!” However, like Aronofsky’s Black Swan, “Mother!” never relies on borrowed aspects alone, making it unique enough not to be called blatant plagiarism (though a stronger case could certainly be made about how “Black Swan” copied the Japanese thriller “Perfect Blue”). Anyone looking for a thrill-ride from start to finish will find themselves bored during some parts of “Mother!,” but what those parts lack in excitement, they make up for in surrealism and engrossing details.

I want to stress again that this is not your regular movie, if it wasn’t already apparent. If you like straight-forward narratives, simple messages, and a climax that ends on a high note, you are going to hate this movie. It’s not for everyone, and even if you enjoy symbolic art-house films, you may hate this movie because of its shocking and grotesque imagery. Anyone interested in seeing this should approach with caution and make sure they’re not walking in with expectations of convention.

Grade: B+