TIFF Review: You Are Either Going To Really Love ‘mother!’ Or Really Hate ‘mother!’

After watching mother! – which is playing this week at the Toronto International Film Festival – I have a sneaking suspicion that director Darren Aronofsky doesn’t have a very high opinion of the human species. It’s one of those movies that people will either love or hate. There’s not going to be a lot of in-between.

(Also, mother! is one of those movies in which there seems to be a lot of mystery surrounding its plot, which has been manufactured by Aronofsky and the studio. Look, I’ll tread lightly but I have to get into some stuff so this is more than just me writing, “I liked it.” But if you don’t want to know anything, you might not want to read this.)

When mother! opens, we meet a young woman played by Jennifer Lawrence (the characters really don’t have names, and why becomes apparent as you watch the movie). She’s married to an older man, played by Javier Bardem, and they live what seems to be a peaceful life in a house in a remote location.

Bardem’s character is a renowned poet and philosopher, and as the film progresses, we learn he has many admirers and followers, all with different intentions. Unexpectedly, a man shows (played by Ed Harris) up at their house hoping he can stay for the evening. Bardem’s character invites the man in, though Lawrence’s character (who we will call The Mother from here on out) is wary of this man and doesn’t like the intrusion. Soon after, the man’s wife shows up (Michelle Pfeiffer) and now The Mother is not happy at all this couple has taken it upon themselves to basically move into their quiet house.

Then the man and woman’s two sons (Domhnall Gleeson and Brian Gleeson) arrive and, boy, these two do not get along – and violence soon erupts, spinning this once quiet house into a sort of constant state of angst and turmoil. As the movie goes on, the house that was once described as paradise has now become something that more resembles destructive chaos.

Look, it should be no surprise to you by this point (if you’re still reading – though I have no idea why this parenthetical is here because people who stopped reading will never see this part) that there are a lot of religious undertones in mother!. Actually, it’s an understatement to call them “undertones.” They are more like “overtones.” Yes, definitely “overtones.”

I do wonder what exactly Aronofsky is trying to say here. I mean, yes, it’s pretty obvious that on one hand he’s saying that humans are destroying Earth and religion has played a big role in that. But then there’s always the chance there’s something deeper, something more personal. But then people like me run the risk of assigning value to something that’s not there or isn’t real. Aronofsky is a famous director who has been in relationships with famous female actors (one of them is currently the star of this movie) and I’m sure he’s felt a sense of the public chaos and turmoil that this movie projects as he lets strangers into his personal life.

But, then again, who knows? It’s not like Aronofsky hasn’t made movies about religion before (his last film was Noah) and maybe he just really wanted to make another one about this subject. But mother! is the kind of movie that people are going to dissect over and over and over to the point of annoyance. Heck, I’ve already annoyed myself in these last two paragraphs. But it’s pretty obvious Aronofsky is mad at “people,” at least he was when he wrote mother!. And maybe at no one in particular, but if this movie is any indication, I don’t think he has very high hopes for society or religion or our leaders.

Also, there’s one scene in mother! that I won’t at all spoil, but I kind of wish I could just spend the whole day at a local Cineplex and just keep watching unsuspecting patrons react to it. It’s pretty unlike anything I’ve ever scene before and is going to get quite the reaction. This is not a movie for everyone. But I do think what Araonofsky has done here is pretty ambitious. It’s maybe a little too on the nose at time, but I’d rather see a director like Aronofsky shoot for greatness any day than just another movie that appeals to the masses. mother! is not for the masses.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.