Bold, with impressive performances, but reactions will vary greatly 4 Stars

mother! is unmistakably an Aronofsky film. The intimacy with which he filmed and staged the entire production contains, unassailably, his signature.  His best work comes when he grapples with things he wants to make sense of. You find it in his under-appreciated Noah, and in my favorite, The Fountain. In those films he reaches for something beyond his natural grasp and attempts to deconstruct it via narrative examination. Where he perhaps falters in mother! is in trying to stretch his inquiry and sense of helpless anguish around too wide a field of study. He includes such a breadth of ideas that as the film leaps towards its close, the constructed focus blurs. The film, however, is audacious enough to remain compelling to the very last shot.

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Disc Information
Studio: Paramount
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.39.1
Audio: Dolby Atmos, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DD, Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Other
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: X Hr. X Min.
Package Includes:
Case Type:
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: MM/DD/2017
MSRP: $

The Production: 4/5

“You give, and you give, and you give. It’s just never enough.”

A couple living in the secluded comfort of their country home are disturbed by a visitor (Ed Harris). They offer him shelter for the night, and while the visit was unexpected, the man of the house (Javier Bardem), is besotted by the visitor. His wife (Jennifer Lawrence), who has been carefully renovating their home, is unsettled but ultimately deferent to the husband she adores. The visitor’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives the next morning, followed soon after by their two angry sons, and soon the idyllic life of the couple is run awry with strange people getting out of hand.

mother! establishes the walls of its world quickly. The home, which serves as a key and foundational character itself, is imbued with great warmth. That warmth begins to dull as the many characters, none of whom are ever referred to by name, treat it with great disrespect. Director Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) slowly unravels the tranquil lives and loving relationship of the central couple (Bardem & Lawrence). The camera follows Lawrence tightly as strange events unfold in her home as she is rendered as little more than a helpless witness. We become her, unable to understand the odd behaviors of the socially rude and unpleasant characters running roughshod over her while her husband, rapt by the many visitors’ adoration, fails to understand the impact upon her in their own home.

Mother! derives its strength from Lawrence’s intimate performance. As her world is unsettled, so too do we become unsettled. Aronofsky’s direction anchors the entire picture on Lawrence’s character. And the film, or rather our experience in the world he has crafted, is predicated on our attempt to understand what is happening and why. All the while, we also become absorbed by the unusual and irrational events Lawrence’s character is surrounded by and subjected to.

The divided reaction to mother! is not unexpected. The cryptic outing was marketed as something entirely more traditional in the horror/thriller realm. But audiences found themselves presented instead with something entirely more elusive, unpredictable, and lofty in allegory and symbolism. It would be easy to defend mother! if that switch had been a flawless surprise, but it isn’t. The tale is, for me, the story of mother earth beaten and belittled while symbolic representation of man’s entire history and religious permutations, play out. The film establishes these tenets but often paints outside those lines, becoming clear that what we are seeing is really something deeply personal and resonant for the director himself. It’s as if we’re reading a great poem for the first time as interpreted by the poem’s greatest fan. Interpretation of art can be deeply personal, and it’s okay that the film bends toward the more cryptic interpretation as the works originator see it. But the ability for the audience to interpret, navigate, and understand what the story is really about seems less important than Aronofsky getting it all off his chest.

mother! is unmistakably an Aronofsky film. The intimacy with which he filmed and staged the entire production contains, unassailably, his signature.  His best work comes when he grapples with things he wants to make sense of. You find it in his under-appreciated Noah, and in my favorite, The Fountain. In those films he reaches for something beyond his natural grasp and attempts to deconstruct it via narrative examination. Where he perhaps falters in mother! is in trying to stretch his inquiry and sense of helpless anguish around too wide a field of study (the history of everything, up through man’s abject deconstruction and unforgivable plunder of the world around us). He includes such a breadth of ideas that as the film leaps towards its close, the constructed focus blurs. The film, however, is audacious enough to remain compelling to the very last shot.

Performances are flawless. Lawrence is stunning, appearing in just about every scene and shot, she exudes a susceptibility and an increasing loss of control, and connectedness with her husband, that we become haunted by the chaos surrounding her. She is by turns fragile and hardened by the harrowing experiences, becoming a stranger in her own world, carrying that sense of disconnectedness in her expressions and movements. Javier Bardem is fascinating as the adoration-obsessed husband. He is never malevolent, yet he appears at times like the villain even though he is never villainous. Michelle Pfeiffer gives a brilliant supporting performance, as does the eminently watchable Ed Harris. They meander so selfishly into Lawrence’s world, initially as socially rude, but evolve into something more harmful and worrisome as time progresses.

Aronofsky’s art-house approach subverts the scary house premise and while I can sympathize with those who level criticisms of pretentiousness at the film, I can’t agree. What mother! is to me is something expressive and bold–a controlled chaos of ideas and expression that grabbed me from the opening moments and carried me to the haunting end. Even when it falters, the gamble taken is something to celebrate. We crave original ideas but tend to spurn them if they don’t conform to our personal desires for how those original ideas are explored. That’s not a criticism of those who did not like mother!, on the contrary, I think the divided reaction means that Aronofsky did something right. The final third of the film will be where the film will either grip or lose you. It ramps up the symbolism and metaphor to such a frenzied degree that it will leave no doubt as to what Aronofsky’s ultimate intention and originating sentiment was. You will either agree to go along for that ride, or reject its message or approach. Or perhaps both.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

Shot in 16mm, the look of mother! is wonderfully organic, filled with grain, texture, and an innate cinematic feel. Generally, tones are warm through most of the film, taking a colder, greyer turn toward the end of the film until the climax bursts with brighter colors again. With the great talents of Matthew Libatique’s cinematography, mother! is a beautiful film that takes us through the unending halls of the house with fluidity. Light hits at just the right angles as the camera maneuvers around Jennifer Lawrence, capturing fine details, dust in the light streams, and every crack in the walls and floor.

Audio: 5/5

Aurally, with its available Dolby Atmos soundtrack (which presents as 7.1 for those not Atmos equipped), is an entirely immersive experience. What begins with a general sense of quiet becomes an experience of sound effects, rumblings, and eventual chaos that fills the speakers with disquieting worshippers, riots, wars, death, famine, filth, death and destructions within the walls of the house. Without a score, mother! is an interesting emotional experience. I would have loved to hear what Aronofsky’s frequent composer collaborator, Clint Mansell, could have come up with. But as it is, the sounds of an orchestra are not there to inform or nudge us, and what we feel comes only from the staging, performances, and the use of quiet and sound. The audio here captures everything perfectly.

Special Features: 2.5/5

mother! the downward spiral (29:51): This special feature (referred to as the making of mother! on the case) shares director Darren Aronofsky discussing his approach to the experience he wanted to deliver. He and others also discuss how challenging the film is to quantify and explain, as well as their own interpretations of it. We also get some behind the scenes footage of the rehearsal process. This is a worthwhile 30 minutes, with the examination of the fight scene between the two brothers being intense and interesting as a microcosm of the film’s shoot.

the makeup fx of mother! (6:45): A look at several of the film’s make-up effects, from toilet creatures and robot babies, to cremated and ash bodies.

Overall: 4/5

mother! offers a bleak view of humanity and existence and isn’t meant to leave us with answers or hope, but rather a need to reflect on both where, and who we are as a species. The film will not be for everyone. I found it fascinating and beautifully staged and constructed with performances worthy of watching. It helps that I don’t disagree with the overarching point director Aronofsky was trying to make. Others won’t have the patience for the approach taken. A calibrated sense of expectation for what this film really is about will help. mother! most certainly is not a horror film in the conventional sense, and most certainly isn’t about something scary happening in a secluded house in the way we’ve seen before. Wonderfully controversial with precious little middle-ground for reactions.

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Mike Frezon

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I'm not the swiftest when it comes to allegory and symbolism, so films like this invariably test me.

And that's exactly the reason I'll be sure to give this a watch eventually. Well, that AND Jennifer Lawrence.

Thanks, Neil!
 

TonyD

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I saw this at the movies and it is one of the craziest movies Ive ever seen.
I had to go online after seeing it to get a better idea of what I just saw.

Rented to bluray tonight and will watch it tomorrow.
Looking forward to rewatch knowing what I now Know.
 

DeanHarris

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Definitely a love-it-or-hate-it film. I loved it, expecting a horror film but, minute by minute, was increasingly surprised by what the film had in store. This is a must-buy for me.
 
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Colin Jacobson

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Definitely a love-it-or-hate-it film. I loved it, expecting a horror film but, minute by minute, was increasingly surprised by what the film had in store. This is a must-buy for me.
I neither loved nor hated it. I mostly liked it for 2 acts and then thought it went off the rails for the final third.

Interesting movie but not wholly successful, IMO...
 
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TonyD

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I don’t fell like it went off the rails.

I think the third act was What all the seemingly normal stuff was leading to.
Entire movie is a metaphor for all existence
 
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titch

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I don’t fell like it went off the rails.

I think the third act was What all the seemingly normal stuff was leading to.
Entire movie is a metaphor for all existence
Entire movie is a metaphor for what I feel when my in-laws come round for Christmas.
 
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Mike Frezon

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TonyD

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Yeah. When you watch pay close attention to the first moments of the movie.
 

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It is going to be seen as a Christmas classic by future generations along the lines of It's a Wonderful Life. I say gather the family in the home theater, pass out some blankets and hot cocoa and settle in for a heartwarming story of epic proportions that shows the true meaning of religion and spirituality.

I think have a tray of turkey legs to pass out for the last 10 to 15 minutes of the film as well.
 
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All you need to know about this film is it is an Aronofsky film...so, it addresses his feelings about human beings and their nature, how we treat our planet, and his feelings about religion...so expect these things not to be portrayed in a positive light.

If you are religious...particularly Christian...I think you will find this film hideous. I'm not at all religious so I quite enjoyed it as basically an allegorical take on how god is indifferent, other than wanting his worshipers to love him, mankind is brutal, rude, and greedy, and how we treat our planet/environment as a giant trash heap. There are a couple little nods to what it is like to be famous but really that's minor compared to the commentary on poisoning the environment and the lunacy of religious people and mankind in general.

It's a funny thing that the people that really need to hear the message of the film and would get the most out of it will hate it. The people that agree with the message of the film will probably find it somewhat amusing, and people who do not understand what the film is saying/doing and walked into it expecting a horror film will probably be confused as all hell.

I laughed several times during the film at the epic lunacy of the characters...you need to know what they all represent to laugh probably...and where he takes things at the end, which is certainly meant to offend a portion of the audience/population but I could see where he was going a mile away. I mean he is taking what he does out of a very old book that has been incredibly well distributed. So, for me the film was not at all shocking or surprising but it was beautifully shot, well made, and wonderfully acted.

That is my honest, less comical, take on the film. I think it is a good film that really is reflective of the time we are living in and that's likely why he made it now. Who will this film appeal to? Wow, I don't know really because I don't know how many people will enjoy a film that takes this sort of dark view of humanity and basically mocks the utter insanity of religion.
 
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If you are religious...particularly Christian...I think you will find this film hideous.
I'm certainly not telling anyone how to take the movie but I don't think it's offensive. It probably wouldn't go along with that person's beliefs but I don't think the movie intends to mock them either.

EDIT: Added a very important "not" to the beginning of my post.
 
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TonyD

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I was born and raised catholic and I found the movie fascinating.

I didn’t even pick up on most of what was happening. Went online and did a lot of reading and found plenty of interesting insight on what the movie was about.
 

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Catholic like Tony D., but I did recognize the literary origins of the film: a certain book that starts with Genesis and ends with the Apocalypse. And just like Tony D., I found the movie endlessly fascinating. The story has a circular structure so that it never really ends; it goes on eternally.
 
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Yup. Catholic. Not offended at all. Fascinated more like it.
 
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I definitely was not raised in a religious environment, and I want to clarify a few things. There is nothing here that specifically portrays Christianity in a negative light. It is an Old Testament God and over zealous followers who are represented badly. There's a big difference.

That's probably all I'll say, because it's treading the line of discussion that's permitted on HTF. In the context of the movie, it's OK, but there's a risk of discussion spilling over into forbidden territory. It just seemed like a distinction that needed to be pointed out.
 

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