Not My Mother

Some critics are trying to imbue mother! with significance, but these critics seem to disagree on what this significance is.

Mother! is the new movie written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, who also directed The Wrestler (2008) and Black Swan (2010). In his latest movie, a blocked poet (Javier Bardem) and his unnamed wife (Jennifer Lawrence) live in his home that she has been restoring after a destructive fire. A dying doctor (Ed Harris) and later his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their sons appear, and their fight over a revised will is the beginning of a narrative disintegration that is inexplicably, and unsatisfyingly, explained in the final scenes.

The best parts of this movie are its colors and sounds. Aronofsky and his Cinematographer Matthew Libatique and Editor Andrew Wiesblum use a color palette of washed out hues in the walls (Set Designers Larry Dias and Martine Giguère-Kazemirchuk) and costumes (Danny Glicker), especially in the first part, and this symbolism informs the surrounding countryside from the porch and contrasts with the darkness of the second part. These visual clues are reinforced by an immersive sounds (Craig Henighan) of whispers and other supporting sounds.

Good movies, regardless of design elements, need strong stories at the center, which is the biggest problem with this one. In one way, it’s a creation story allegory — the poet represents God although this god suffers from a creative block, and the doctor refers to Adam with his wife Eve and sons Abel and Cain. Perhaps then the poet’s wife is Mother Nature, just one who needs a mysterious drug, which is dissolved in water and ingested in regular doses, to manage the stress of living with her creator, or she could be the New Testament Mary, which could explain the infanticide and cannibalism but not much of the rest.

This narrative silliness can be seen in the stylized title. Promotion for the movie includes a lower case letter and an exclamation mark, which presumably are significant. The exclamation mark, Aronofsky explains, represents the spirit of the movie although that remains unclear after seeing the movie. The lower case letter, he claims, can be understood by considering another name for the character without a capitalized letter in the credits although a Paramount representative reportedly explained that it should be the character with a capitalized letter.

I expected, after The Wrestler and Black Swan, much more from this movie, and I walked away disappointed and, worse, frustrated. Aronofsky claims that he wants “to shake audiences” with this film, but I apparently, in spite of critics’ best efforts, am not the only one.

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