After a curious dream where she sees a woman in an inferno, this young lady (Jennifer Lawrence) wakes up in bed and calls for her husband (Javier Bardem). He is a poet some years older than she is, and they have moved into this country house in the middle of nowhere to get away from it all, the better for inspiration to strike him and create what he hopes will be his masterpiece. The trouble is, that inspiration has run dry lately, and the lady, while supporting him as best she can, currently prefers to put all her energies into fixing up their home, which was in a state of disarray when they moved in but is improving with each day they spend on it. But then the husband brings a visitor...
This was writer Darren Aronofsky's attempt to wrangle a collection of conflicted fears and feelings into one single stream of conscious scream at the state the world had gotten into in the third millennium, and as it turned out following this artistic muse was not a popular move. Expecting a blockbusting Jennifer Lawrence crowd-pleaser, audiences were infuriated or horrified by what they were being asked to swallow under the guise of entertainment, and word of mouth spread fast: Jen was not her usual self here, and worse than that, she'd made a pretentious art movie! The sense of betrayal among the mainstream was palpable, they didn't go to the pictures for this sort of bullshit!
But some people did visit the cinema for precisely this - and it was properly cinema with all the weight of that term, not simply the movies - creating an instant cult experience in the process, particularly if you could get onto Aronofsky's wavelength. It was odd that so many rejected mother! when the feeling in the air, politically and socially, internationally even, was that humanity was going to the dogs and answers were running out as to what the solution for the world's problems could possibly be, though the conclusion here that we were heading inexorably towards an apocalypse of ignorance and waste was obviously far from reassuring. Bear that end times mood in mind, for there was a Biblical slant to the story.
To the extent this was an allegory, with references to The Good Book abounding... except nowhere in the Bible is Mother Nature mentioned, and while the female characters do tend to be there to give birth to the heroes and villains, motherhood wound up being sacred largely in the New Testament when The Virgin Mary popped up. Here, those personae were combined, the pagan notion of Earth as a provider and maternal with it, and Mary as the immaculate creator - with God - of the Son of Man, the individual whose divine qualities would rescue humanity, but purely after the ultimate sacrifice. It was accurate to point out in his fevered delivery, the director was constantly in danger of getting into a terrible muddle of mixed messages and a magpie assembly of theological and sociological ideas, but the results were undeniably bracing.
Besides, why should the most intellectual ideas be left solely for the intellectuals to play around with? Shouldn't us hoi polloi have a chance to try them out too? They can have Peter Greenaway's The Baby of Macon, while we can be confronted with this. Not that Aronofsky was aiming for a populist tone, despite his movie star casting throughout, with Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer the most prominent names as a couple of maddeningly uninvited guests who manage to create a horrendous chaos in their selfishness (that finger is wagging at you, my friend). Yet although there were those, even in a supposedly religiously Christian nation like The United States, who did not understand what he was on about, it really wasn't so difficult to fathom, and that was its strength, placing the classical tale and mix of myth, legend and faith in a context that was original but identifiable in a terrific example of a warning that went beyond stern and straight into screaming in your face. The fact that billions across the globe were both being screamed at and doing the screaming to no apparent avail was where mother! summoned its power from, and besides, how often do you get to see something this nuts?
American writer and director, whose low budget science fiction film Pi was much praised. He followed it with Requiem for a Dream, an equally intense drug addiction story, with the long-awaited but unsuccessful sci-fi epic The Fountain arriving in 2006. Downbeat drama The Wrestler was Oscar-nominated, suggesting he was fulfilling his early promise, and Natalie Portman won an Oscar for his ballet horror Black Swan. His eccentric Biblical epic Noah met with a mixed reaction to say the least, though that was nothing compared to mother!, his other Bible pic.