For a high-profile studio film made on a budget of $30 million, starring one of Hollywood's most famous actresses in Jennifer Lawrence, mother! is unorthodox in every way. From its secretive marketing campaign in a world of excess, to its heavily symbolic and highly disturbing narrative, Darren Aronofsky's film is easily one of the most audacious releases of a generation.
Aside from the film's plot, Aronofsky's intense and personal direction orchestrates a sense of unease in the audience from the moment the story begins. In contrast to invasive close-up tracking shots of Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) that visually draw the focus to her perspective, the film's score — or lack of it — draws the auditory focus to events taking place off camera.
The silence that fills gaps between dialogue is palpable. But that same silence is pierced by the orchestra of creaks, groans and smashes that add liveliness to the isolated home where Mother resides. Technically, while our attention is honed in on Mother, those sounds provide the gravitational pull of the story, luring her from one room to the other by the scattered crescendo of breathing wood and cracking plaster.
For the basis of a home invasion horror, this is highly effective, tapping into our instinctual fight or flight response. When noises ring the alarm for events happening off screen, our intuition tells us to explore, to find the cause. As these calls to action increase, they heighten the sense of disorientated tension in the audience and on screen they overwhelm Mother, making the eventual explosion of violence even harder to watch.
How 'mother!' Uses Sound To Enhance Its Allegory
Like all aspects of this movie, using sound in this manner also has thematic meaning. Aronofsky and Lawrence have confirmed what early viewers suspected (spoilers ahead) — #mother is a biblical allegory, Him (Javier Bardem) is God, Mother (Lawrence) is mother nature, and the bricks and mortar of the home are planet Earth, shown symbolically via a pulsating heart hidden in the structure of the walls. In this sense, sounds of the home become the score.
Its use is impressive enough, but there's a surprise twist — the sounds are the voice of mother nature herself, Jennifer Lawrence, digitally distorted and manipulated. In an interview with Aronofsky and Lawrence, the New York Times confirmed that the sounds of the house, down to every creak in the floorboards, use Lawrence's voice as a foundation. This is poetic representation of the omens, warnings, and disturbances from mother nature's "voice" about the state of the world, hurricanes replacing creaks, earthquakes replacing smashes.
It relates to another metaphorical warning hidden within mother! in climate change and the human disregard for the health of the planet. Those seemingly innocuous sounds catch mother nature's attention (and the audience's, too), but to the hoards who carelessly invade her home, they mean nothing. Her warnings are ignored, her renovations taken out of her control. Eventually, it leads mother nature to implode her planet, engulfing it in a fiery apocalypse — another biblical reference.
In the same interview with the New York Times, Aronofsky and Lawrence — who have begun dating since filming — shared their polarized view on whether to reveal the allegory before. Aronofsky believes viewers should go in blind, to try and piece it together as they go along. Lawrence believes viewers should read up on the allegory to enhance enjoyment.
There is a third option. Using Lawrence's voice to channel the spirit of the planet into noises around the house illustrates mother!'s meticulous attention to detail, the layers and layers of information to unwrap, digest, unpick. Consequently, mother! has huge rewatch value (for those willing to stomach its brutality) and will surely be analyzed for years to come. So, why not watch it twice?
Did you notice the sounds of the house in mother! were Lawrence's voice?
(Source: New York Times)