Sweet Fever Dreams are made of these.
I saw mother! by myself, in an strangly empty theater, on a windy and gloomy September evening. This made for a uniquely sensory yet bizarre viewing experience. It was like my own little fever dream broadcasted on a wide screen.
The film stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, as simply Mother and Him. A married couple that seem to live in a house that was recently violently burnt down. Him( Javier Bardem) apparently is an acclaimed poet suffering from writers block, while Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) dotes on him while also renovating the bare household. Their relationship comes across as tender but at the same time distance, with Him coming across as aloof and melancholy.
This all changes with the arrival numerous guests into household. First a doctor, then his wife, and even his sons eventually making their way into the house. With each guest, Mother becomes more and more agitated and confused at this bizarre gathering of people who seem to know Him well, who also is puzzlingly hospitable, almost blissful with by the thought of these people being his house.
Mother is stuck in the middle of this and barely gets a word in edgewise before Him let’s these strangers into her home. Her interactions with her unwelcome new buddy’s range start polite, then go on to be intrusive and slightly aggressive, escalating to a violent altercation between the two sons. From then on, things get….weird. Fanatic fans of Him start visiting, the house get damaged and broken as Mother is barely able to grasp what going on. Next thing you know, there’s a literal war going on inside the house with rabid fans fighting swat teams, as death and destruction swirl all around.
Lost? Confused? Don’t worry, that’s a normal side effect of trying to dissect this movie.
I’m being purposely vague with certain plot points and story beat, because this is film that is less about coherent plot or arc, but how the story is told and what atmosphere and vibe it displays. I’ve seen many films described as fever dreams in the past few years but I believe Mother! actually deserves the moniker.
The house that is the main and ONLY setting in the movie acts almost as pocket universe or world. One where actions and reactions escalate at a rate that wouldn’t be normal in real life. The passage of time seems distorted and amplified. Months or even years seem to go by in hours. This antagonistic atomosphere lends itself well to the style of the movie, that of a increasingly violent fever dream or even nightmare, one that Mother can’t seem to escape from.
This turns out to be the movies biggest strength and its biggest curse. If you prefer straight forward films with a clear cut narrative and story structure. You can stop reading. This movie is definitely not for you.
Mother! is absolutely LOADED with allegories, symbolic characters, and events represent biblical lore. It’s essentially a big budget art house flick. Which explains the polarizing reactions to the film. If you finish this movie saying “Was I just dosed with acid? What the hell was that?!?” you’d be well within your rights to say so. Even if the performances by the actors are good, it’s not going to mean a lot if everything being presented seem like the ramblings of a crazy person.
Make no mistake, this is a film that is intentionally antagonistic to the person watching.
It’s wants you to squirm. It wants you to get tense and uncomfortable.
And depending on who you are, this movie is either going succeed or absolutely fail.