Review: 'Mother!' is a maniacal mess of metaphors

Marcus Goh
Contributor
Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Mother!’ (Photo: United International Pictures)

 

Secret ending? There are some audio snippets in the credits.

Running time: 121 minutes (~2 hours)

“Mother!” is a horror-drama with fantastical elements.

The film revolves around a poet and his wife, who live in a large secluded house. One day, a visitor stays the night, which triggers a series of events that changes their lives forever.

“Mother!” stars Jennifer Lawrence (Mother), Javier Bardem (Him), Ed Harris (Man), Michelle Pfeiffer (Woman), Domhnall Gleeson (Oldest Son), Brian Gleeson (Younger Brother), Kristen Wiig (Herald), Jovan Adepo (Cupbearer), and Stephen McHattie (Zealot). It is rated NC-16.

“Mother!” was shrouded in secrecy all the way until a few weeks before its release, and even the names of Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem’s characters were obscured (originally given as Grace and Eli, but removed in the final product). Upon watching the film, it’s not hard to see why — there’s no way you can watch the film without have a strong reaction to it. You’ll either love “Mother!” or loathe it, but as a narrative of moving pictures, it’s a dismal disappointment.

Mother! (United International Pictures)

Highlights

Strong metaphors and allusions

It’s not difficult to see what the film is an allegory about. There are plenty of metaphorical (and fantastical) elements and Biblical references, with the characters making clear, specific statements to cement those metaphors in the viewer’s mind. This figurative element is undoubtedly artistic, and appears to send a strong message about religion and creativity. The film leaves itself open to interpretation and discussion, without giving an obvious stance on where it stands.

Excellent performances by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem

Perhaps the most interesting and grounded aspect of the film is the marriage between Him (Javier Bardem) and Mother (Jennifer Lawrence). The first two Acts of the film focus on the subtleties of their relationship and their unspoken thoughts. It feels like a genuine, realistic portrayal of an average marriage, complete with the doubts, fears, and insecurities that are intrinsic to such intimate relationships. Unfortunately, this means that the final Act plays out like a starkly incoherent mess compared to the intense character study we’ve watched in the first two.

Mother! (United International Pictures)

Letdowns

Incoherent plot and details

The problem with the plot is that the characters appear to live in a modern world with working mobile phones, yet everything else seems to be stuck in the 80’s. You’re constantly wondering how a couple can survive in a house that’s so isolated from the rest of humanity, let alone have visitors coming by on foot. Then there’s the amazingly well-stocked house which, well, seems rather impossible given that they have to carry everything by hand. It’s not a critical issue, but when compared to the ludicrousness of what happens next, you can’t help but wonder at this.

Plot forces characters to do ridiculous things

Characters must drive the plot, not be pushed around for the sake of the plot. Unfortunately, “Mother!” does exactly the latter. Characters behave in unrealistic ways that make you wonder if anyone has the slightest bit of EQ in the film, all for the sake of creating a metaphor that is so painfully heavy-handed in execution. The characters cease to be motivated individuals and become caricatures of what they represent, shoved around in service of a ridiculous plot.

Devolves into pointlessness 

Act Three of the film abandons all pretence of realism and turns into a mess of caricatures performing metaphorical actions to accomplish some sort of Biblical allegory. This is where it becomes pointless, because “Mother!” keeps clobbering you with all these metaphors as if it’s afraid you won’t get it. Random characters are inserted for no good reason, making you question the purpose of including them. There’s no story, no narrative, and it’s just a convoluted bunch of scenes meant to shock.

Gratuitous violence and gore

The worst part of “Mother!” is the indulgent violence and gore. It looks like an excuse to spend money and create special effects. The execution of the special effects isn’t bad, but the reason and motivation behind it are. It’s illogical and exasperating to see all this violence and gore taking up screen time, when the film could have been creating a less flamboyant but more satisfying conclusion to its tale.

Mother! (United International Pictures)

“Mother!” starts off with an intense examination of a marriage that is fraught with tension, but this character-driven aspect degenerates into an in-your-face mess of metaphors. The biggest problem with “Mother!” is that it doesn’t know what it is about, and hence, nobody else (including the audience) knows what it is either.

“Mother!” opens in cinemas:
– 14 September, 2017 (Singapore)
– 14 September, 2017 (Malaysia)
– 20 September, 2017 (Philippines) 

Should you watch it if it’s free? If you like metaphors and Biblical references.

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? No.

Score: 1.9/5

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter, having written for “Police & Thief”, “Incredible Tales”, “Crimewatch”, and “Point of Entry”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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