Hollywood studios are now, more than ever before, reluctant to challenge their viewers on a narrative or cinematographic level. Far gone are the days of the 60s and 70s when inventive new filmmakers started an “American New Wave” movement that ushered in bold and original titles that were funded by studios willing to take risks to create the next big cinematic sensation.
However, there still exist a few pioneering Hollywood filmmakers who have managed to draw the market in through their past reputation and who keep original cinematic storytelling alive. Among those few, director Darren Aronofsky remains perhaps the most polarizing, creating films, such as “Requiem for a Dream,” “The Wrestler” and “Black Swan,” all of which are as visually beautiful as they are psychologically haunting. His new film “Mother!” is without doubt his most audacious and risky work yet.
“Mother!” begins with a young wife (Jennifer Lawrence) and her husband (Javier Bardem) living within a “perfect” home in the middle of anywhere. The house has no roads or pathways connecting to the outside world, which is perfect for the husband, whom we learn is a famous writer/poet struggling with writer’s block. Though “Mother!” opens with moments of serenity, its narrative soon diverts to complete chaos and rancor as strangers begin to show up at the dream home. Taking advantage of the wife’s hospitality, they run amok through the house and in doing so distort its previous perfection. Meanwhile, this husband/writer mysteriously revels in their presence to the great confusion and fear of his wife.
If the above summary of the film’s plot seems vague, it is because to indulge into too much detail about “Mother!” would be to take away from its overall impact, which feels comparable to a monstrous rollercoaster that leaves one dazed, confused and thrilled beyond belief. Aronofsky’s film is riddled with symbolism of every kind (biblical, philosophical, literary), and these symbols cater to his own agenda for the film: an allegory for Mother Nature and the damage human beings have done to her since the beginning of time.
Part of the enjoyment in watching “Mother!” is the challenge viewers are faced with in solving the puzzle that comes with the film’s every shot. Yet unlike the simple jigsaw, “Mother!” becomes the kind of puzzle that takes its viewer to psychologically horrific places to solve.
Among the many things that make “Mother!” an incredibly compelling piece of cinema is the film’s breathtaking appearance and technical profundity. The work of cinematographer Matthew Libatique deserves the highest praise. “Mother!” features unforgettable tones of sunlight and darkness that rests on the faces of Lawrence and Bardem as if it were God’s loving eye and not a mere camera capturing their appearance. This can be credited to the fact that “Mother!” was shot in gorgeous 16 millimeter film that adds a creamy patina on each image’s surface.
In addition, the film is only shot in three camera angles: close-up, over-the-shoulder, and point of view, giving it a freewheeling flow that harks back to the “Dogme 95” style of filmmaking that another radical filmmaker, Lars von Trier, often employs. (Interestingly, Von Trier’s 2009 film “Antichrist” and “Mother!” have their fair share of similarities.)
With the exclusion of any score in “Mother!”, the film’s usage of visual and audible technique evokes a style of cinematic story telling that is pure and nature-like. By associating its own style with the message it is trying to portray, “Mother!” becomes a cinematic experience for those who appreciate the beauty of image as much as they do the content behind it.
As an adamant environmentalist and director on the board of the Sierra Club Foundation, a group that “promotes climate solutions, conservation, and movement building through a powerful combination of strategic philanthropy and grassroots advocacy,” director Darren Aronofsky is angry about the environmental state of the world. “Mother!” is his visual poem that aims to spark a conversation that can lead to real reform and change.
“Mother!” is perhaps the most challenging and baffling film to come out of Hollywood in the past decade, but there is no doubt that the viewer who wants something fresh and substantial out of their movie-going experience will find it here.
William Plotnick can be reached at [email protected]