By Simon Tessmer
Editor's Note: There Will Be Criticism is a weekly column by Simon Tessmer, a film student at MSU. Tessmer's other reviews can be read on his blog. Tessmer's criticism will be published on Fridays. Check out his last weekly column on "It" here.
On my drive home from the cinema a large object fell on the roof of my car. An acorn, a rock, perhaps a squirrel, it made a sharp metallic clunk that transported me into the grotesque anxiety of mother!, into a high-stress world where humanity was focusing its violent ignorance on me, where my body was the focal point for life’s horrendous and darkly comedic ruinous forces, wrought in rapid waves and bent on swift service.
I felt in that moment the film had lobbed the guilty object, that perhaps Darren Aronofsky himself had crouched in road side bushes, eagerly rubbing his hands in anticipation of his final brilliant assault on my mental health.
mother! is about an author (Javier Bardem) and his wife (Jennifer Lawrence) who both live in a house, and the providing of further plot details would be simultaneously a disservice to the reader and a task rendered impossible by the extremity of disturbing allegory the film indulges in, as it guzzles the Kool-Aid of expressionistic literalization to such a shocking degree it becomes comedic, an exercise in conveying a highly specific nightmare scenario as viscerally and ruthlessly as possible. I left the theatre in euphoria, and on the verge of vomiting.
mother!’s convoluted thematics allow for a multitude of interpretations, though its dominating interest is undoubtedly fundamentalist religion. Within that potent sphere it encounters tangential yet fertile interests in domesticity, marriage, celebrity worship, misogyny, and a particular type of anxiety that felt disturbingly personal to my own lived experience.
Aronofsky addresses these interests in a fearlessly literal manner that generates a viscous static shock of genre confusion, conflating the best of comedy and horror into an inarticulably brilliant and frustrating witch’s brew.
Lawrence’s performance is an impossible task rendered possible, as her character shoulders the brunt of an endless series of horrors, heightened and explored to a degree I thought beyond the moral limits of cinematic representation. She moves through the dream-like pace of Aronofsky’s breathlessly quick narrative with the stride of a rational human, enacting beautifully the role of the “straight man” in a demented and limitless comedy.
Her nightmare, the loss of domesticity, strikes a chord within my own nightmares, where the thoughtless violence of human hordes wipes away my individuality and scoffs at my futile attempts to differentiate. Lawrence’s exhaustingly brilliant performance sought the carriage of this nightmare into my body, in a persuasive manner that seemed to convince that though I’d never consciously manifested this nightmare, it had lain dormant in my mind and required exorcism.
Aronofsky’s brilliance in mother! blends the power of cinematic identification as elaborated by Alfred Hitchcock with the moral fearlessness of Michael Haneke and Lars von Trier, producing a film that holds itself close to the viewer while ravaging its protagonist.
The result is excruciating, a film that goes there and further there and further still the impossible there. mother! accomplishes something rare, the treasured induction of a unique feeling.
The totality of its formal brilliance and narrative ingenuity seizes on the spectator in a way impossible for life to recreate, in a manner far from pleasurable yet on some level transcendently pleasing, in a way that shaped in the form of Aronofsky’s middle finger declares triumphant I have made you feel something new!