The Daily Stream: Mother! Is The Bonkers, Misunderstood Treat You Should Revisit This Halloween Season

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "mother!"

Where You Can Stream It: Paramount+

The Pitch: Darren Aronofsky helms a wildly misunderstood bit of insanity starring Jennifer Lawrence as the younger wife of an old man, a struggling poet Javier Bardem. All Lawrence's character – who, like everyone else in the movie, has no real name – wants to do is please her man and stay at home; she's the living fantasy of angry, lonely men everywhere; a woman with no ambition and no personality other than the one she attaches to her marriage. But Bardem's poet is never satisfied. It's not enough that his wife loves him – he wants everyone to love him. The idyllic seclusion of the married couple's life slowly begins to fracture when strangers arrive. First, there's a sickly man (Ed Harris) who thinks the house that Lawrence and Bardem share is a hotel. Then, the sickly man's wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives, and so do their quarreling adult children (Domhnall Gleeson and Brian Gleeson). And that's just the beginning. Before long, the house is overrun with people, and things have descended into violent anarchy. 

Why It's Essential Viewing

"mother!" is a lot of things. Horror movie; dark comedy; a satire about the creative process; biblical allegory; a meditation on toxic masculinity; a fever dream. It's all this, and more. And, perhaps most of all, it's misunderstood. Indeed, "mother!" seemed destined to be misunderstood from the jump. The marketing was deliberately vague, which lead to people jumping to conclusions. One common complaint I saw in the weeks leading up to the film was that it featured Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence as a married couple even though Bardem is more than 20 years old than Lawrence. But of course, the age difference is part of the story. We're not supposed to assume these two are some great couple. Instead, Lawrence's character has absolutely no agency; no identity. And that's the point. It's all part of Aronofsky's plan. And Aronofsky is very much in on the joke here, right down to the film's stylized title. "When I first wrote the title, it was 'M-O-T-H-E-R,' by itself, then I did a polish and the title was 'Motherrr!!!'—exclamation point, exclamation point, exclamation point," he said. "And Javier and Jen said to me, 'That's not the new title, is it?' I was like, 'Yeah, maybe!'"

Aronofsky shoots "mother!" almost entirely from Lawrence's perspective, with the camera practically glued to the actress throughout the course of the film. "The film is basically either over her shoulder, on her face, or her POV," he said. "That's the only shots. There are a few wide shots when she's alone. But beyond that, the camera is basically in three places." As a result, we can only view the events of the film from a fixed angle, and this only adds to the surreal quality.

"mother!" plays with the audience. The first half is strange but mostly straightforward – Lawrence's character wants to get rid of this family that showed up unexpectedly while Bardem is happy to have the company. But the film's utterly bonkers final half is what caught everyone off-guard. Here, "mother!" becomes pure chaos, blending the creation myth from the Bible with other bits of unrestrained madness. It's somehow both darkly funny and highly disturbing, and that's part of what makes "mother!" so special. 

A Mad Time To Be Alive

The inherent polarizing nature of "mother!" likely helped doom it. The movie received mostly good reviews, but the general public was downright repulsed, leading the film to receive the dreaded "F" CinemaScore. And just yesterday we ran a story in which Aronofsky revealed he got plenty of hate mail for the pic, stating:

"We were nervous about how controversial it was going to be, but then when you release a movie to the world, and there's so many angry people, you start to wonder, 'Hold on, what did I do? I get some of the best hate mail ever, which is great."

But a polarizing movie is not a bad movie. And I would rather have more "mothers!" than most of the junk Hollywood pumps out on a yearly basis. Even if certain elements of the film don't work, "mother!" takes risks, and feels all the more relevant now as the world continues to descend into madness. "It is a mad time to be alive," began a statement Aronofsky released when "mother!" opened. The statement concludes: 

"'Mother!' begins as a chamber story about a marriage. At the center is a woman who is asked to give and give and give until she can give nothing more. Eventually, the chamber story can't contain the pressure boiling inside. It becomes something else which is hard to explain or describe. I can't fully pinpoint where this film all came from. Some came from the headlines we face every second of every day, some came from the endless buzzing of notifications on our smartphones, some came from living through the blackout of Hurricane Sandy in downtown Manhattan, some came from my heart, some from my gut. Collectively it's a recipe I won't ever be able to reproduce, but I do know this serving is best drunk as a single dose in a shot glass."

If you're on the hunt for something scary to watch this Halloween season, and would like a change of pace from familiar titles, it's time to visit "mother!"