Some critics are calling “mother!” one of the worst movies ever made. Others are calling it genius. Regardless, critics and other inhabitants of film Twitter are just about the only people seeing it, because with an “F” CinemaScore, Darren Aronofsky’s latest endeavor is a bona fide box office flop. Whether or not it’s because of the film itself, marketing that missed the mark, an inability to compete with the undying allure of a killer clown or some combination thereof, audiences are simply not lining up to see Jennifer Lawrence hyperventilate for two hours.
Which is a shame, because, believe it or not, “mother!” is actually worth seeing.
But before really delving into why, one thing needs to be made clear: “mother!,” though definitely horrific at times and loosely structured in the vein of the tried and true home invasion narrative that is a mainstay of the horror genre, is not really best understood as a horror film. Imagining a horror film is imagining the sort of story that can be told around a summer camp bonfire late at night, complete with a prank-loving camp counsellor ready to jump out of the darkness in full costume at just the right moment to scar a gaggle of youngsters for life.
“mother!” is not one of those types of stories. It is really most accurate to speak of the film not as a story, but as a rant—a cinematic explosion of bile and nervous energy, an overflowing of anger and fear and regret.
Like most rants, “mother!” is self-indulgent and prone to tangents and overblown hyperbole. That said, for these shortcomings, it also has that bizarre, unnerving element of spectacle that all truly inspired rants do. And perhaps more importantly, like most rants that have spent a long time building, there is actually a good degree of thought amongst the madness, and an overabundance of genuine feeling.
That does not mean that the arguments the film makes so fervently are necessarily accurate, but it goes to very extreme places in a wholehearted way that most films are afraid to—and, as “mother!”s box office returns indicate, seemingly for good reason. So you might love “mother!” or hate it or end up feeling any other of number ways, but you will not feel indifferent. I, for one, am much happier to take that gamble walking into a film than the low-risk low-reward scenario of tepid, CGI-laden mediocrity that major films much more often provide.
But this still has not addressed the question of what “mother!” is about. Well, as I mentioned before, it more or less touches on this, that and everything with an equally wide range of allegorical reference points—though the Bible and writer/director Darren Aronofsky’s personal life are definitely the two largest—but the basic setup is this: brooding poet Javier Bardem and his much younger wife Jennifer Lawrence live in a large, beautiful house in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Their relationship is depressingly staid and ‘the great writer’ has a serious case of writer’s block, until one day Ed Harris shows up thinking their house is a bed and breakfast, and things quickly spiral into a madness perhaps best described as “The Giving Tree” on an acid trip. The characters do not have actual names, and you will almost certainly laugh at least once—not because the film is humorous, but because you have no idea how else to react.
If you want to be creeped out by a murdering clown that has been around since the ’80s, go see “It.” If you want to see a bloated action sequel that is inferior to its predecessor in every way except budget, yet still moderately entertaining, go see “Kingsman: The Golden Circle.” But if you are up for something different and are willing to make a little bit of a gamble, give “mother!” a try.