*Quick note from the writer: This article was supposed to have been posted last year. Somehow it got lost in my drafts. I’ve re-read it and still stand by my summation.
To say the least, mother! is a film you experience. Narratively speaking, the film is sparse. There really isn’t a story or a defined plot, but rather a series of occurrences and events that range from suburban drama to biblical, Bunuel-ian surrealism. The film plays out much the same way a horror movie would, with a stereotypical heroine (Jennifer Lawrence, playing a nameless woman) whose life is being acted upon and, in many cases, threatened. As with many horror films, you find yourself asking “Why is this happening?”
And Aronofsky’s camera makes sure we are never quite sure what is coming up because the camera is rarely more than 18 inches from Jennifer Lawrence’s face. The audience is shut-off from the events in an almost anti-Hitchcockian, there’s-a-bomb-on-the bus, type
of storytelling. Lawrence’s confused housewife character is an avatar for the audience because Aronofsky rarely allows us to see what’s happening until the situation has escalated.
Hitchcock created tension by showing the audience what the characters didn’t know, and then he stretched out the tension until the very last second before the bomb was about to explode. Aronofsky chooses to create a sense of uneasy tension by having the audience experience the events after they are already in motion, as well as giving tid-bits of clues and information without explanation. The hand-held camera is often focused squarely on Jennifer Lawrence’s face from a front angle and tracks backward with her as she makes her way from room-to-room. It’s only after we’ve seen an expression of disbelief, horror, and/or disgust on her face that the camera gives us the character’s perspective and shows the event.
I think much of the negativity surrounding this film is because people don’t like this sense of uninformed discomfort. It would be a different story if the film were more intentionally farcical or strictly grounded in reality, but because the film goes to the far reaches of horror it’s deemed a disgusting, disturbing film. If you can look past the disturbing elements, there is actually a lot of humor in how far this film is willing to go to affect you. After the first few incidents you start to chuckle and think “now what the fuck is THIS?”
Or there is a chance I just outed myself as a very dark person who sees humor in sick things. You be the judge.
(Don’t judge me)
I think mother! is an interesting study in style and its effects on audience experience, and I would love to see how this film would play out if it was shot with a classical visual tableau. The film has famously received a rarified “F” Cinemascore, which is based on opening night audience reaction, which also happens to be the least effective way of critiqueing a film. This is also the reason why most critics dismissed the film’s surreal horror. Critics have deadlines to meet, which is not conducive to critical thought and depth of analysis. With a little more thought and self-reflection people might come to an understanding of why they reacted to the film the way they did. I’m certainly not saying everyone is going to find mother! to be a great film or a misunderstood masterpiece, as I do, I’m just saying people are too quick to react negatively to things outside their comfort zone.