Writer-director Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”) is known to be a filmmaker with an inclination for shocking his audience. From his surreal debut “Pi” to his more mainstream but nevertheless bizarre ventures such as “The Wrestler” or “Black Swan,” his works have confounded, outraged and entranced moviegoers with their often controversial explorations of the human experience. However, none of his previous films compare in pure audacity to “Mother!”, a deeply disturbing tale that is equal parts religious critique and psychosexual horror.
Rather than the twisty thriller that Paramount marketed the film to be, “Mother!” is in fact a quite heavy-handed Biblical allegory designed to incense and enrage. Taking meta swipes at religion and humanity’s subsequent propensity for selfishness, the film follows a young homebody (Jennifer Lawrence, “The Hunger Games”) struggle to keep it together as her older poet husband (Javier Bardem, “No Country for Old Men”) allows a strange and discourteous couple (Ed Harris, “A Beautiful Mind”, and Michelle Pfeiffer, “Scarface”) into their middle-of-nowhere home. Soon enough more and more strangers flood the house, sending it into chaos and sending the leads’ seemingly idyllic relationship down a perverse rabbit hole. The “twist” is that all of this is a surface-level reimagining of the Christian creation story, with stand-ins for Mother Nature, God, Adam, Eve and other figures.
At its dark and twisted heart, the film is a bold examination of humanity’s troubled relationship with the concept of a higher being, and the conclusions it draws aren’t pretty. Humans are portrayed as petty and violent, while their wise creator is a narcissistic gaslighter who can’t see past his quest for adoration. However, the script is ultimately not smart enough to convincingly drive any of these points home. Aronofsky oddly triumphed in interviews about the film that he wrote the script in five days, and unfortunately for him, it shows. The dialogue is clunky and simple, the characters uneven, and the metaphors far too on the nose. The result is an overly long film the equivalent of an emboldened, smug and pretentious art student trying to piss off his parents.
That’s not to say there isn’t merit in rebellion. The fact that “Mother!” was allowed to be made, let alone by a major American studio, is somewhat of a macabre miracle. Despite its structural shortcomings, Aronofsky and company do succeed in creating a disturbing tale that makes you think, and the film is sure to dominate cultural conversation about art for months to come. It’s a daring, risky venture that should be applauded for giving birth to that conversation. It’s just too bad that it’s all let down by a lack of truly meditative thinking on its subject matter, instead opting for cheap shocks and easy symbolism.