Psychological thrillers are hard to pull off. The film can either blow people’s mind, or fade with a whimper. Director Darren Arronofsky has been meddling with psychological thrillers throughout most of his filmography, the likes of Pi, The Fountain, and Black Swan left many audiences confused and rattled. That is very much the same feeling that comes out of Arronofsky’s latest film: mother!
mother! follows a couple who live in the middle of the country side, the woman (Jennifer Lawrence) is remodeling the house herself, while the man (Javier Bardem) is a writer suffering from writer’s block. One day a doctor shows up (Ed Harris), Javier Bardem’s character invites the doctor to stay over, and what seems like a cordial invitation turns into a bit of an imposition as the doctor’s wife (Michelle Pfieffer) shows up. And slowly the likes of a home invasion begin to take shape, with no one except Jennifer Lawrence’s character noticing.
The first half of this film is everything you could want it to be. It has a slow building of suspense, and doesn’t rely on jump scares, but instead on flickering images and subtlety. Arronofsky sprinkles symbols here and there, seeing if any of eagle-eyed audience members can catch any foreshadowing. But then all of a sudden the story spins completely out of control, battering an array of tones and genres that end up dizzying you. The finale is twice as long as it should be, and so clearly overthought by Arronofsky, that I doubt it even ended up making sense to him.
The film clearly has the symbols of an artist suffering to create, and while that is a good enough premise, Arronofsky becomes obsessed with deviating our attention elsewhere and getting lost in cinematic allegory. The build up from the first half demanded an incredibly twisted ending, but we end up getting the simplest of conclusions.
The disappointment isn’t even mellowed by the great performances from the cast, Lawrence gives a dominating performance, while the likes of Bardem, Harris, and Pfieffer revel in their mysterious characters, the likes of which they haven’t seen in years.
The technical direction is amazing as well. There is no soundtrack; instead our ears are left to catch faint scrapings on wood or knocks on glass. The camera stays latched onto Lawrence throughout, always uncomfortably close. But in the end, it doesn’t matter how many great crewmembers and actors you have working for you, if the story doesn’t work well, the film deflates. ,
I usually campaign for directors and writers to have complete freedom with their work, but mother! might be a case in which a bit of studio involvement and reigning in would have done the film some good. This film will end up confusing the hell out of mainstream moviegoers, and to those few intellectual cinephiles, you will be solemnly disappointed.