Being the stubborn kind of person that I am, I still haven't seen Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan (or Noah, but I'm led to understand I dodged a bullet there). I have, however, seen The Wrestler, and that movie alone was enough to elevate Aronofsky to the level of "director to watch" in this house. So I was already interested in his new film, mother!, even before I saw how much it was polarising and apparently confusing the hell out of audiences.
A man and a woman live in a house in an isolated field. The man is a poet who had achieved great fame with his first book; lately however he has been suffering from writer's block and hasn't written a word in some time. The woman, meanwhile, spends her time painstakingly rebuilding the man's home to exactly as it was before a fire destroyed it almost completely. She loves the man deeply, but he seems far more interested in curing his writer's block than he is in spending any time with her. One day their quiet, isolated life is interrupted by the arrival of a strange man - and later his wife - who claim to have travelled far to meet the "Poet". In turn, the Poet allows the couple to stay, much to the distress of his wife who does not want them in her home. The visiting couple's strange behaviour, resultant events and the arrival of more and more people distresses her even more, and as things start to spiral out of control her distress seems to be linked to and mirrored in the house's condition...
Two important points before we go on. One; this review will most likely contain spoilers for at least some of the themes of mother!, so if you're wanting to go in completely blind then you should probably stop reading now. Go directly to your local cinema; do not pass Go. Two; if you suffer from phonophobia or have problems with cacophonous crowds - like me - then watching this film might prove difficult. Seriously, I've not willingly walked out of a film since 1995 and Nine Months, but I honestly got so anxious at times while watching mother! that I came close.
So, to the symbolism, of which mother! has by the bucketload. The most obvious theme is probably the religious one, and with that comes the addendum that mother! is rather an anti-religion film; a cautionary tale of what unchecked religious fanaticism (or any kind of fanaticism really) can lead to. Although sometimes it might have been laid on a little too thickly - there was one point in the film where, in the midst of all the chaos on the screen a little voice in the back of my head started chanting, "Follow the gourd!" But yes, obviously the Poet (or "Him", as he is known in the script - always with the capital H) is a stand-in for God, or a god - but then who do the other characters represent? Watching the film makes that clear, so I'm not going to just spoil everything here.
Other interpretations of mother! could also include the price of fame; the consequences of a loveless marriage; the extremes to which the fans of celebrities sometimes go to... In the end though, it can really all be traced back to religion, and what people will do for their beliefs. This latter idea leads to several quite disturbing scenes, just about all of which centre around Jennifer Lawrence's character (known in the script as "Mother"). She is abused several times through the course of the film - physically, verbally and mentally - and the anguish she suffers over the invasion and destruction of her peaceful life with Him is almost palpable.
The cast of mother! are all excellent in their roles as well. Jennifer Lawrence (who feels like the hardest-working actress in Hollywood right now) really gets into your head as Mother; meanwhile Javier Bardem is suitably both enigmatic and charismatic in his role as Him (and, as my brother noted, he gets to have a normal hairstyle for once as well). Ed Harris (who I last remember seeing in The Abyss but has had a career since then) and Michelle Pfeiffer as the Man and Woman are also spectacular in their roles as well - particularly Pfeiffer as the worldly, cynical and vaguely threatening - to Mother, at least - foreign presence in Mother's home.
mother! is a film that people will either love or hate - there's no middle ground here. I seriously doubt that anyone is going to come out of seeing this film saying, "Eh, it was okay." I can't say which of the two camps you'll fall into - at least some of it will depend on just how much blatant symbolism and metaphor you can take in your films, and whether or not the film's themes disturb and/or even bore you. mother! is a hard film to watch - it can really get under your skin, into your head, and mess with you there even after it's finished, but I at least found it worth the effort to get through - I enjoyed the way it made me think if nothing else.