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Darren Aranofsky's challenging, terrifying, sometimes even nauseating purging of a bunch of supremely high-concept allegories is one of the most original and thought-provoking, if not one of the best, films of the year. Besides the directing full of pinpointed assuredness, the soul-bearing performances from everyone involved (Especially Jennifer Lawrence, who is asked to go to some uncomfortable places while the camera is an inch away from her face during most of the runtime), and a willfully insane story structure, especially for an American studio release, its real success comes from the fact that it can be digested in many different forms and many different tonal approaches by the audience.
1. If you're a genre hound who doesn't necessarily care about unraveling the film's many blunt philosophical and theological allegories, don't really care much about diving deep into what's real and isn't in the story, and want to just get yourself through a bizarre horror flick within the home invasion sub-genre, then Aranofsky's expected technical prowess will certainly satisfy in the basest level of effective audiovisual storytelling. This is, at its technical core, a terrific example of the slow-burn, psychologically taxing instead of jump scare heavy, Roman Polanski-style gonzo horror. Aranofsky's dedication to telling his bizarre story about a couple being visited by a series of increasingly overpowering and crazy visitors via Lawrence's mother character's close-ups, letting us experience the confusion and fear that the character goes through firsthand, combined with the film's exquisitely detailed sound design work, always keeps the audience on their toes.
2. If we were to look at the entirety of mother as the visualization of a nightmare, perhaps had by an expecting mother who's struggling with the common fears regarding the prospect of bringing new life to a world that can certainly be chaotic and unforgiving, it works perfectly in that cerebral, David Lynch-style dream-logic approach. Movies usually depict nightmares as being filled with grotesque images and monsters. But a lot of real nightmares involve situations that we're familiar with, tweaked slightly in a way that's off-putting and gradually horrifying. How many of us had nightmares where we're merely trying to leave our house, but for some reason being unable to do so? Or how about dreaming ourselves in seemingly regular social situations, but the way people act or the setting itself is off in a way that we can't definitively explain, which causes our inherent unrest? Mother is a true accomplishment in the way that it creates a two-hour-long nightmare where the protagonist is always thrown into increasingly uncomfortable and ultimately apocalyptic situations.
3. Speaking about the apocalypse, mother offers plenty of philosophical and theological allegory for art-house cinema fans to bite into. Like a grimy exploitation take on some of Luis Bunuel's best surrealist work, it's packed full of symbolism that ranges from clever and subtle to obvious yet cosmically important. For those with a passing knowledge of the Bible, especially the difference between the old and new testaments, mother will provide a year's worth of discussion regarding what every single scene, line, or subtle act from any character represents. Aranofsky is not a subtle filmmaker in the way that he presents ideas that he's especially passionate about. And this passion explodes onto the screen with utmost urgency and immediacy. Some of the painfully obvious allegories (The third act is basically a soul-scarring horror version of the way Life of Brian satirized the speed in which organized religion can become a confusing and destructive force in the world) are eventually forgiven because Aranofsky's anger and pain regarding those issues are always palpable.
Let me be clear in saying that this is a weird and extremely unconventional experience. You might hate it, you might adore it, but you're bound to think about it long after it's over.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com