The filmmaking alone is enough to keep one’s eyes and emotions glued to the images and sounds on display. I was viscerally reminded of Rosemary’s Baby pretty early into the film, whether justified or not, by the sheer feelings created from the camerawork and editing. There’s a sense of unease and weirdness, however subtle, that’s apparent from the very first moments that’s all due to the style created by Darren Aronofsky. Not like we’re used to seeing in more mainstream work. The camera follows Jennifer Lawrence in uncomfortable close-ups everywhere. The shots cut quickly but deliberately so, not in a familiar we-have-to-do-it-like-this for-the-modern-audience’s-short-attention-span-and-our-need-to keep-the-length-short that we are used to seeing in Studio films. Things start simple and straightforward enough as we meet our two main characters (played by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem in carefully conceived performances), whose existences becomes gradually corrupted by the arrival of the first visitor that shows up at their doorstep (played by Ed Harris).
This is just the beginning. It gets weird, weirder, and more and more uncomfortable.
Now I’m not a fan of surrealism. I never was. I gave up on David Lynch halfway through Mullholand Drive even though I really liked Lost Highway. This falls into that category so it’s not surprising that most people hated it, as that genre is not popular. Having said that, sometimes a film can give you something despite your pre-conceived expectations. The only other surrealist films I can think of that blew me away as much as this did are The Holy Mountain and El Topo by Alejandro Jodorowsky. Like those works, the religious subtexts are strong here, though they weren’t as apparent to me at first as they probably should have been. My original reading was more psychological than theological. The thing with surrealism is that I may not understand what I’m seeing but it might affect me on an emotional level.
There is a big chunk of the film where it becomes apparent that we are not meant to understand what is really happening, but hope that we will. In the end, I was not let down. Though my interpretation was my own, and somewhat vague, it was enough for me to be completely in awe by the end of the credits. I may not have understood what was happening or why exactly at a certain point but the emotional impact was undeniable. Once one realizes the Big Symbolism of a lot of the actions we see (especially during the second half) you either don’t accept what the filmmaker is doing or you marvel at his audacity. I sure did. And his undeniable mastery of the artistry of filmmaking and storytelling is a huge reason why.
I was never impressed by Jennifer Lawrence. Only because she’s been called one of the best actresses of her generation and I’ve never seen a performance of hers that was memorable. But this is where my opinion changes. Not only is this a great performance but along with Red Sparrow one has to admire her gutsy choices of late. Both films are uneasy, unsafe out-of-the-norm projects (Red Sparrow was surprisingly dark for a big-budget studio film aimed at a mainstream audience). Her character (who, like every other one in the film, is not named) is our guide and we are kept so close to her throughout that we begin to feel through her despite the lack of complete understanding of what is happening. It’s normal, as neither does she. This is a great decision from Aronofsky since we can only empathize with her (she is the subject of every single scene) we are meant to be as confused as she is. It’s to Lawrence’s credit that she makes us care for her and what she is going through throughout the escalating chaos, confusion and horror, which reaches incredible heights.
This is exhilarating filmmaking on all levels. From the first moments there is no respite or downtime. I was constantly in anticipation of what would happen next, questioning why, looking forward to the answers, marvelling at how strangely relatable Lawrence’s character was only through her performance and the camera’s closeness to it. At the end, I wanted to go back and go through every scene and character interaction with the knowledge of the final revelation. Undoubtedly, subsequent viewings will only reveal just how many layers were put into every detail of the story’s structure and its characters’ roles in it.
This may not be for everyone, but for those who appreciate singular vision in their films this is the kind of thing that rewards and excites. Mother! should be studied, written and spoken about for years to come.