I’m a little late to the mother! bashing party, but I’m still trying to decipher how I feel about this – how shall I put it delicately – abomination of a movie.
I have one simple question, and maybe you can help me out here: WTF was it all about?
Film critic Rex Reed pretty much sums it up in his Observer review: “this delusional freak show is two hours of pretentious twaddle.”
Apparently it was the state of today’s world that inspired director Darren Aronofsky to write mother!
“From this primordial soup of angst and helplessness,” he said, referring to a list of problems from the environment to the refugee crisis, “I woke up one morning and this movie poured out of me.”
Hey, excuse me pal, can you please suck it back in? Pass the bucket please, something is just about to pour out of me.
It’s Art Dahling!
I like going to a movie with a clean slate so I can enjoy the tension and mystery as the plot unfolds. But this time, there really was no coherent plot to follow. It was like watching a Salvador Dali painting come to life. Let’s call it abstract film-making, because I’m baffled. I never thought I’d need Cliff notes for a so-called horror movie. This isn’t Dostoyevsky guys; it’s meant to be fun.
The first quarter of the film seemed promising, offering tension, dread, and decent build – a sense of expectation prevailed, fueled mostly by the previews. But that wore off fairly quickly, spoiled largely by the vapid, paper thin main characters. Half way through I was waiting for the story to go somewhere, getting restless. As for the remainder of the movie? I was at a loss. Was I just not paying attention? Do I not read enough high brow literary fiction or watch enough movies by flamboyant French directors?
As the credits rolled I stared blankly at the screen, in confused silence. Then I turned to my friend, and asked her: “did I miss something? What the…?” She stared back, shaking her head.
We were dining and reclining at a swanky Cinebistro theater. I was relishing the fact that I didn’t have to make dinner (or wash up) and was enjoying a rare evening out with my friend – a fellow stay at home mom and horror buff. We’d both been looking forward to this movie and were hoping for a treat.
Maybe I did miss some important tid bit right at the beginning – we were a little distracted – struggling to cut a huge piece of chocolate cake in half, in the dark.
Or maybe I missed something during the last hour because I really needed to go to the bathroom, after drinking an Americano and a Heineken (in that order) with my meal. I remember looking at my phone at that point and thinking, how much longer? I really need to go. Not a good sign…
Box Office Flop
Despite gushing praise from some critics and earning 67% on Rotten Tomatoes, audiences hated Mother! It was a box office flop, pulling in a paltry $7.5 million on the opening weekend. Many people walked out mid film. It received an F-score from CinemaScore, a firm that analyzes audience reactions to movies, which is, apparently, quite a rare feat.
The film was marketed as a horror/psychological thriller in the same vein as Rosemary’s Baby. Well, at least that’s what I gleaned from the trailers. But this ploy was misleading.
I’m a self proclaimed horror film redneck. I like my horror neat, like a shot of Tequila, straight up, no nonsense. Maybe a little salt on the rim, but that’s it. I don’t like no intellectual horror, we’ll leave that for them over educated weirdo film festival folk (and maybe this movie should have stayed at the festivals.) I want fun horror, creepy horror, scary horror. And you can throw in some social issues and realism in there by all means, as long as it serves a purpose and is relevant to the story. And that’s the kicker. This film seemed to have no overall point, and no conclusion.
In a nutshell it’s a story about a married couple, played by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, (referred to only as Mother and Him in the credits, eye roll,) whose lives start unraveling when strangers start turning up at their isolated home. Mama is busy renovating the house after it was gutted in a fire, while her moody hubby, a famous poet, tries to battle his writer’s block. One night they take in an unwanted guest (Ed Harris) much to Mama’s dismay. His wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives the next morning, followed by their two quarreling sons. Harris and Pfeiffer are called Man and Woman in the credits (Yes, I know, more ‘pretentious twaddle.’) One of the sons stabs the other and he’s rushed to hospital. Bardem, or Him, accompanies them, leaving Lawrence alone in the empty house. She proceeds to clean up the mess, mopping up the blood off the hardwood floors, an uncomplaining, compliant, doormat of a woman.
When he returns later that night you’d expect a bit of a scene. Does she yell at him? Demand answers? Call the bloody cops? Get CSI to the house? No. Instead, he seduces her on the stairs, in his blood smeared shirt, they have sex, and when she wakes up, bravo, boom, she’s a mom and everything’s hunky dory for a moment.
The brother dies by the way, and later that night, the two grieving parents return to the house, and even more strangers just barge on in, laden with covered pyrex dishes as if it was a repast. We are never told who these people are, or where they come from, and we never actually see the outside world. The strange mourners are derisive and hostile towards Lawrence. But she never retaliates. As a viewer, you just want to shake her, and scream in her face, “do something, dammit!”
The third act descends into total chaos and madness. Him is finally writing again so all seems well. A heavily pregnant Mother is busy preparing a lovely meal, but they never get to enjoy it. Hordes of people arrive, adoring fans of Him, salivating over their literary hero. He’s a cult figure and these people are fevered fanatics, clamoring to meet him. And it’s at this point I was really rolling my eyes, groupies who travel by the bus load to come see their favorite poet? Really? How many people actually read poetry? An impromptu poetry slam in an isolated country mansion. Happens all the time.
The remaining scenes are just an incoherent hodgepodge, groups of desperate people trapped behind a wire fence, bombs going off, cops barging in, soldiers with machine guns, people being shot, heads blown up, Lawrence giving birth amid the mayhem. Him taking the baby, holding it up in front of the lunatic mob.
It’s only at the very end that we get a rise out of Lawrence, when it’s basically too late to change anything. And one of the biggest problems is her insipid character. She’s straight out of a Victoria Holt novel. If my husband had invited an ancient looking Ed Harris, into my house after dark, and he was puking up body parts in my freaking toilet, there would be a conversation. And the movie is dominated by close ups of her face, 66 minutes out of 120 in fact. The camera stayed on her so long at one point I started counting Lawrence’s moles. And her face shows little emotion. I’m sorry, but an ordinary woman would be fuming in these circumstances. So, yes, I know it’s a ‘horror’ movie, but the story loses impact since it’s difficult to identify with such an unrealistic character. Mother’s timidity and weakness simply evoke a mixture of compassion and revulsion. There’s a distinct lack of character development throughout. In fact we don’t really get to know anyone well enough to give a damn.
There was an overabundance of the surreal and little reality in which to frame it. Mother has no relationships outside the house and her marriage, we don’t see her calling her mom or a friend for a healthy bitch session about her douchebag husband. She doesn’t go out to the car, go off shopping, in fact she never ventures outside. This absence of any normality just doesn’t work for me. It’s too unsettling. All she seems to do is fix up the house and paint. Maybe she’ll get her own show on HGTV?
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the beating heart in the walls of the house, I still don’t know what that means. And the floor has a mouth or vagina or something, and it bleeds. Yawn.
When I got home I played detective and tried finding out what exactly I’d just spent two hours watching. After reading several reviews I finally cracked the code. The movie was a metaphor – brimming with religious analogies. The burst pipe in the kitchen? Duh, the Biblical flood of course. Mr. Frog in the basement? A plague from God. Hello, anybody home? McFly. Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) stars as Mother Earth herself. The house is the earth. Pfeiffer and Harris are Adam and Eve. Which means, Him, Javier Bardem is…drum roll please…God.
So wait, help me out here. Mother earth is a helpless victim who allows herself to be kicked around, with no complaint or retaliation, and essentially offers herself up as a sacrifice for some selfish, self-aggrandizing dick wad? And God is a narcissistic, unemotional prick who watches his wife get brutally attacked by an evil mob, and worst of all, allows his only child – a newborn baby (Jesus? Why not!) – to be ripped apart and devoured by a bunch of nut jobs? And none of this is ever explained, there’s no conclusion or tying up of loose ends.
Is this a new genre? A movie where the viewer has to try and figure out what the hell the story is about and if there is actually a point to the whole stinking mess? We’ll call it found footage horror – the filmmaker just gathers a bunch of footage and throws it together then the viewers can work out the story themselves. A movie puzzle. There, make ‘em work for their popcorn.
We would have gone to see the new version of Stephen King’s It, but my friend has a clown phobia. I can’t wait to see this movie – one that truly belongs in the horror genre. It broke box office records, kicking mother! to the curb. And do you know why? Because Stephen King fans know they’ll at least get a good story, regardless of how the filmmakers tackle the remake of an awesome original movie. His stories are always coherent, they have an actual point, and his characters are well rounded, and some of them, quite likeable. He’s simply one of the best modern storytellers around, and has earned the title, ‘king of horror.’
I thought M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit was the worst horror film of all time, but boy was I wrong. It still gets the nod for most annoying characters. But in my humble opinion, Darren Aronofsky’s’ ‘cautionary tale’ is the mother! of all horror movie fails.
This review by Alison Hill first appeared on her website and is reprinted here with permission.