When you're watching the first half of Mother!, you're almost lulled into thinking you know what's coming. It's a simple enough set up. A woman played by Jennifer Lawrence is married to a poet who can't seem to write anymore (played by Javier Bardem).
They live in a secluded house in the middle of nowhere, painstakingly rebuilt by Lawrence's character, almost as a hopeful way to bring balance to Bardem's life so that the words can once again flow from his fingers. One night, out of nowhere, a man played by Ed Harris shows up. He thinks it's a bed and breakfast and he's immensely strange.
The movie goes out of its way to point out that this house in the middle of nowhere gets bad cell reception. We see that Lawrence's character has strange visions, and the house seems alive. Perhaps this strange man and this house will cave in on the couple, bringing them madness. Maybe this is like a version of The Shining. A movie about a couple, one of them a writer, off in the middle of nowhere and dealing with marital problems will always draw from The Shining, natch.
And then the second half of the movie happens.
You're eased into it. Michelle Pfeiffer shows up, deliciously uncouth. Then the two sons show up and the movie gets extremely biblical. There's obvious Cain and Able imagery, imagery that writer and director Darren Aronofsky seems to have seared into his mind, because he also built a sequence of it for the immensely weird and ambitious Noah.
Saying things get bonkers after that would probably be an understatement. The movie swerves and zigs and zags and it does not give two shits if you're following along or not. It's kind of like sitting in a rollercoaster shrouded in darkness. You don't know where it's going, but you know it's going to do something crazy.
What's fascinating about this portion of the film is how you can use it to read the film however you want. Films, of course, are subjective beings and people have spent many hours and many pixels pouring over what they think a movie is about. While there's sometimes an idea or two that seems far fetched, for the most part they're grounded and people - especially critics - can agree about the intent.
Mother! does not do that. You can seemingly pick a number of themes out of the movie and they all align perfectly. You could look at this film as the plight of an artist trying to create, and the relationship they have with fans and how that affects personal relationships. You could take that idea and get more specific, saying its Aronofsky ruminating about his relationship with Rachel Weisz. Or, you could go in a totally different direction and dive deep into religion. Maybe this is a story about our relationship with God, with Jennifer Lawrence playing Mother Earth. That's certainly how Aronofsky himself has explained it.
You could think the film is about the ninth-month pregnancy process. A relatively stable environment is invaded and then that force begins to grow and fundamentally change its housing to suit its needs until it explodes back into the world, leaving the host changed forever. Until it all resets and starts again. It's a warped, pessimistic and mysoginistic view of pregnancy, but it's a view.
Or, you could think the movie makes no sense at all and is a total trainwreck. And, well, if you were expecting the entire movie to be the first half that feeling is not an unwarranted one.
Regardless of which thematic angle you approach Mother! from, its crafted tightly and wound like a clock. That, more than anything else, is what makes it so impressive. Whether it was intended or not, Mother! feels like every image and every beat works on multiple thematic levels.
It's hard to recommend Mother! You need to go into it expecting a movie that cares about theme more than plot, and you need to be prepared for some very personal thoughts from Aronofsky that'll more likely rub you the wrong way than right way.