Mother! is a 2017 psychological horror, of sorts, from the mind of Darren Aronofsky, who both wrote and directed it. Not shy of a big budget, or a big star, Aronofsky has also written, directed or produced films like Noah, The Wrestler and Black Swan.
Mother! isn’t a standard low budget, B-Movie horror. It had a decent budget (reportedly over 33 million dollars) and features a host of household names that must have cost a few pennies. Names like Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris all feature heavily in the movie. So yes, we are talking big budget, Hollywood gloss here which is normally a bad thing. Especially in horror.
Be warned, there will be spoilers below!
The film centres on Jennifer Lawrence’s character, known simply as Mother who lives in a large house with a writer/creator/poet suffering from writer’s block known simply as Him (Javier Bardem). At the beginning of the movie we see Him place a crystal on a pedestal in a room within a burned down house. The surrounding area, house and all, morphs into an idyllic home surrounded by lush greenery. Mother wakes from sleep in a bed in the newly formed room having had a terrible nightmare about the destruction of her home and property. While Him swans about doing very little of anything, Mother spends time renovating the house.
As she does so, she is plagued by unsettling visions like a beating heart that appears to be blackening and blood stains on the walls or floor.
As the early stages of the film progress, the relationship between Him and Mother seems strained and unnatural. One night, there is an unexpected knock at the door. Mother and Him seem astounded that there could be a visitor. It runs out to be Ed Harris, or Man, looking for a place to stay. Him seems delighted to have Man in the house whereas Mother is much more reluctant. Man appears to be ill, with major coughing fits and a wound on his side and though she asks Him to get rid of Man, he refuses to. Man claims to be a big fan of Him’s previously published work and Him seems to revel in Man’s adulation. They both, unwittingly appear very disrespectful to Mother.
A short while later, Man’s Wife, Woman (or Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives at the once secluded house. Woman comes across as a little more sneaky and has little time for Mother. She convinces her husband to enter Him’s private study where they subsequently damage Him’s most prized possession, the crystal from the beginning of the movie. Him flies off in a rage, for the first time showing anger with the Man and Woman who have entered their home. He barricades the study so nobody can enter again and Mother pleads with Him to remove this destructive pair from their home. Him doesn’t hold his anger for long, begging Mother to show forgiveness which frustrates her immensely.
Not long after this, two more guests appear at the house. The sons of Man and Woman. They argue and fight over their father’s legacy which eventually leads to one killing the other. As Him rushes to the hospital with Man and Woman and their dying son, Mother is left alone and starts suffering all kinds of strangeness. Visions of a dying heart within the walls of the house come regularly and, as she desperately tries to clean her home of the blood of the son, she follows a trail of it which leads her to a hidden room where there is a tank full of combustible oil.
On first watch, it is probably around now where you are thinking “What the fuck is going on in this film?”. The story progresses with a huge collection of people all arriving at the home for the dead son’s wake. Again Him seems to find nothing odd about the host of strangers making themselves welcome in their home and revels in the attention. Mother finally snaps when some of the rude strangers break the sink and flood the home. She demands they all leave and berates Him for allowing too many people inside while ignoring her needs.
As often happens in films, the argument ends with make up sex and the next morning, Mother announces she is pregnant. Him is delighted and takes inspiration from the announcement to finish his writings. The film flashes forward again. During this time Mother is decorating the nursery while still being plagued by visions and blood stains. We hear that Him’s writings have been published and sold out, eagerly snatched up by the public and it is really this news that takes the film down a whole darker, more terrifying path.
Droves of strangers start arriving at the home, helping themselves to anything they can get their hands on and treating the house, and Mother with utter disrespect. Things turn chaotic as hundreds of fans of Him swarm onto the property. Him’s agent, The Herald suddenly starts executing people. Military forces arrive and start killing people. Things are set on fire. The house is ripped apart. It is manic and madness, all while Him revels in the adoration. Suddenly, Mother goes into labour. She finds Him and they hide in his study. She gives birth to a child, a baby boy at which point the chaos outside the room subsides. Him goes out to check and returns to tell Mother the people want to see the child.
Obviously Mother reacts furiously and refuses such a ridiculous request. She holds on to her child, but when she falls asleep, Him takes the child out to the crowd. They grab at the child, break it’s spine and then start pulling parts of the baby off, eating it’s body and drinking it’s blood. Mother snaps and attacks the crowd with a shard of glass while Him implores Mother to forgive them. She runs to the oil tank and despite Him’s pleas, sets it alight destroying everyone and everything within the house.
Within the carnage, Him is completely unharmed whereas Mother is burnt to pieces and horrifically disfigured. Him pushes his hand into her chest and removes her heart. He squeezes it and forms a new crystal at which point the carnage repairs itself leaving the same Eden like landscape as before. A new Mother wakes from a horrific nightmare in her bed and the cycle starts again.
So, you have probably guessed what is going by the almost script like words above but in truth it is hard to review this film vaguely as it will make no sense. The film is not quite as clear as the words above because it all happens so erratically and the people are rarely named as Him, Mother, Man etc…
So Mother tells a story of the creation event. A twisted and warped tale of a religious belief. Him is God. Mother is Mother Nature/Earth. Man and Woman, the first to appear are Adam and Eve. The sons are Cain and Abel. All the way through to the madness taking place on Mother Nature’s place and how oblivious Him is to it as long as he is praised. Hell, they even take the blood and the body of Christ. I must say though, I did not get any of this the first time around. I only figured out what the hell was going on by researching it.
In truth Mother! is a very peculiar movie which often feels like an art project more so than a film. It is glossy and polished with uninspiring acting. On a first watch, you are likely to be absolutely confused by everything that is going on as you try to make sense of what you thought was going to be a film.
Once you understand the plot and the reasoning behind it though it becomes clever and an interesting and provocative take on a historical fable. Is it scary? No, not in the slightest, Confusing and interesting, yes but not scary at all. It does have some pretty gruesome moments though and they do kill and eat a new-born baby on screen which deserves some credit. I also think it will be extremely unpopular with people with strong religious beliefs.
I would definitely recommend watching Mother!. Just once though, that is more than enough. I do think you will enjoy the movie more if you know what it is about first though there is some satisfaction in researching it afterwards and having those “oh, I see” moments.
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Horror Movie Review - Mother! (2017)