Noun: a subtle difference in or shade of meaning, expression, or sound
Noun: a man who wouldn’t know nuance if it shat on his face.
Mother!, Aronofsky’s latest, is a bit, um, on the nose. It’s the story of a famous writer (Javier Bardem) and his new partner (Jennifer Lawrence) who…oh, screw it. Bardem is god. Lawrence is mother earth. The house she doesn’t leave is the earth and blah, blah, blah. In a normal film that would be spoiling the big payoff, the “oh shit!” moment when you realize what the filmmakers were trying to do. But the allegory here is so hamfisted, so obvious from so early on, that any message and meaning Aronofsky was trying to go for is rendered meaningless because of how eyerollingly transparent the whole affair is.
Mother! At least tries hard, so it’s got that going for it. The in your face camera work is meant to show you how trapped and nervous Lawrence’s character feels throughout this ordeal and it would have succeeded if the script didn’t go off the rails. Once the thematic veil is lifted, any attempt at becoming an actual thriller are almost farcical. Which is a shame since the cinematography, lighting, and sound editing are all top notch. You should feel her anxiety, but the source material just doesn’t allow that to happen. This leads to the films crescendo falling flat, and instead of feeling shocked, the audience just sits there with a “well that was certainly a thing that just happened” look on their faces. My palms should have been sweating, but instead I was waiting for it to be over.
The script isn’t the only thing to blame here, however. While I enjoyed Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer’s performances, Lawrence felt flat. While her character is supposed to come across as helpless (despite her best efforts, man will always conquer nature. Get it?), she was too passive for my tastes. Nature fights back, just ask the denizens of Fern Gully. When she does finally lose her cool, I wasn’t buying it. Maybe it was because her dialogue up until that point was too unassertive compared to what was going on around her. Maybe she realized that this film sucked and just didn’t care. Whatever the reason, as a character that is supposed to be the heart of the film, she didn’t sell it. And after a series of duds, one has to wonder who is picking these projects for her.
I don’t know who this film is supposed to be for. It’s too dumb for the film kids, too weird for mass audiences. It can’t decide if it’s a cautionary tale against the dangers of religion or one that warns against how we treat the environment, so it tries to be both. Unsuccessfully. If the script was a bit more nuanced, this may have had a chance at something great. But as it is, Mother! Is a steaming pile of arthouse crap that’s not nearly as clever nor insightful as it thinks it is. What a wasted opportunity.