By all accounts, Mother! is a film that caters precisely to audiences who love the unorthodox. Details about Darren Aronofsky's new film starring Jennifer Lawrence have been kept purposefully minimal, leaving almost no potential viewer with any clue as to what Mother! is about. Early trailers for the film suggest that the movie is a twisted tale of a young wife (Lawrence) and her older husband (Javier Bardem), whose idyllic life in a secluded home turns sour when unexpected guests arrive and poke holes in her peaceful facade. But, is Mother! really about a domestic dream turned nightmare? According to various interviews and reviews, the answer is both yes and no.
The official Mother! synopsis reads, "A couple's relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence." But even Aronofsky, who wrote and directed the film, doesn't find the description all that accurate. "It's a psychological freak-out," Aronofsky said in an interview with The Guardian, a film not meant to be explained rationally by things like plot. "The movie has a dream-logic and that dream-logic makes sense. But if you try to unscrew it, it kind of falls apart."
Aronofsky doesn't particularly want the audience of Mother! to have a solid understanding of the film after they see it, and he certainly doesn't want them to have any preconceived notions of the film heading into the theater. Instead, he prefers viewers show up ready for a ride unlike any other. "It's a cruise missile shooting into a wall, this film," he told New York Magazine. "I want audiences to be prepared for that and prepped that it's a very intense ride."
The director clearly wants audiences to go in blind, but one can't always get what one wants. Some viewers simply don't like seeing a film they know nothing about, and, thanks to the film's recent premiere at the Venice Film Festival, early reviews and word-of-mouth, we've got a few clues that might be able to answer the question of just what Mother! is about. First things first: the basics. The plot is pretty much what was established above: a young wife and her poet husband's solitary lives are interrupted by the arrival of strangers who bring chaos and critique with them. The man (Ed Harris), is a big fan of the husband's writings, while the woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) is not afraid to be critical of Lawrence's character, and takes exceptional delight in noting on her lack of children.
Most people who have seen the film seem to agree on the basic plot points. It is in their interpretation of what Mother is really about that they differ. Vulture's David Edelstein, for example, sees Mother! as both about the horror of self-important artists (the Bardem character) and about the vision of art as a living, breathing child. (Pregnancy, or lack thereof plays heavily in the film, though reviewers have been hesitant to give away whether or not Lawrence's character ever does, in fact, become a mother.) Other critics, such as Vox's Alissa Wilkinson, interpreted the film as a take on Biblical myths of creation and destruction.
These warring interpretations are exactly what Aronofsky wanted. "As you watch it, you think you're watching one thing and it becomes something else. It shifts again and becomes another thing," he told the Toronto Sun. Clearly, the director doesn't want anyone to be able to definitively say what Mother! is about. The film is meant to be shocking, confusing, and, most importantly, off-putting. It's an anxiety-inspiring film that aims at getting the audience to ask what it was all about for days, months, or years after having seen the film. "I just wanted the movie to howl at the moon," Aronofsky told New York magazine.
Based on early reactions to Mother!, it's safe to say, mission accomplished.