They say fear is the most powerful emotion. Whether it be political fear mongering or that high school English instructor, fear can be a great motivator to preserve one’s self. Fear is powerful but painstakingly difficult to sustain without a deep dedication. Perhaps this is why many horror movies today struggle to elicit a fear that lingers after the credits have rolled.
Enter 2017s horror-drama Mother! With works like Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler and Black Swan under his belt, Director Darren Aronofsky tackles fear in Mother! Received with mix reactions, Mother! unarguably did something… different.
My affinity with horror always takes me back to the question, “what is being portrayed as scary?”, and I think this is a perfect place to start with Mother! Sometimes “what is scary” can be as easy as looking at the movie’s plot. The slasher will hunt and kill its prey, the ghost will haunt the house and so on.
These “plot-driven” horror movies tend to be scary only during their viewing. If I reduce The plot of Mother! It would be unwelcomed guest disturbing the peace of a couple in the countryside, with a subjective ending. On paper its plot is harmless, but in practice, Darren Aronofsky explores a fear I myself did not realize I had.
Again, the plot revolves around a secluded couple, Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and Him (Javier Bardem) receiving unwanted guest after guest. At first, it is one man that arrives at their doorstep late at night. He acts rudely and smokes indoors after multiple pleads not to do so. Because Darren Aronofsky tells the story through the POV of Mother the audience relates to her frustrations of the unwanted guests. She is criminally welcoming and is only met with disrespect. After the man’s wife barges into their home it’s their oldest son knocking, and then their youngest son.
Soon after the home is filled with unwanted guest causing a hurricane of mayhem and destruction. Throughout the mayhem, Mother understandably feels only disgust and defeat towards the people she allowed into her home. Interestingly, I also began to have feelings of absolute disgust towards the unwanted guest. During the mayhem is caught myself empathizing with Mother and I think this is where we can find the horror of Mother!
A violation of the house. Infiltrating peace. Becoming a stranger in your own home. These phrases only scratch the surface of the sickness I felt in the pit of my stomach. No matter how welcoming and forgiving Mother was, guest after guest continued to disrespect and violate her wishes and home. To my surprise, Mother’s helplessness transmitted through the screen as I rooted for her to rightly kick them out. Nobody likes their private space violated, but Mother! takes it up a notch and turns that dislike to pure revolt.
Overwhelming the audience to convey its horror worked well in Mother!, but unfortunately, it held back its larger story. Director Darren Aronofsky has gone on the record, for better or worse, to explain that the movie is a huge biblical metaphor. I don’t think biblical references and metaphors are inherently bad, but when you rapid fire them to the audience you lose coherence.
Everything from Adam and Eve and the original sin to the flood and crucifixion is referenced in Mother! At one point some of the guests break a sink fixture that results in a leak bursting out of the pipes. Officially this one minute scene is supposed to be seen as the flood in Genesis. It got rather taxing unpacking the metaphors and I eventually decided to ignore them altogether. Overwhelming the audience with multiple biblical metaphors become tiresome.
Despite Mother! killing you with metaphors and references, its horror excels quite well. It taps into a horror that dwelled deep inside me; revealing its nasty head only when I followed Mother’s violation. It was nicely overwhelming to grimace through Mother’s pain. Rather than relying on a horror that is dependent on plot, Mother! reaches down and pulls out something different in the form of a feeling. So to answer the question, “what is so scary in Mother?” I answer this, a feeling of hopelessness in your own home.