Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer
Darren Aronofsky is not one to take the conventional route, I still shudder at the thought of Requiem for a Dream’s confronting imagery and intense look at addiction. Most of his films centre on some form of obsession and infatuation with an idea. Black Swan had Nina’s desperate attempt to embody both the white and the black swan for her rendition of The Swan Queen, and the aforementioned Requiem for a Dream tackled several characters’ journey to self-destruction as they tried to “make it” and live out their fantasies while being dragged to the depths by their habits.
Mother! is no different to Aronofsky’s previous works regarding themes and technique, rich with religious symbolism and claustrophobic tracking shots that get you in the head of his characters. This is perhaps the wildest his films have ever been allowed to be though, a relentless two hours that builds and builds to a boiling point of insanity and then goes several steps further.
To say too much about Mother! would spoil half the fun but the general narrative is that a young couple played by Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence (who along with every other character in the film are nameless) are living in a house in the middle of nowhere. Bardem is a poet with a severe case of writers block and Lawrence is hard at work building and finishing their home which was previously burnt down. Things start to get weird when a stranger (Ed Harris) and eventually his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) knock on the door and are welcomed in with open arms by Bardem. To say the film spirals out of control from here would be a huge understatement, not that that’s a bad thing at all, it is an absolute joy to see a master like Aronofsky go to places that make you wonder just how this was green-lit by a studio like Paramount.
We spend most of the film with Jennifer Lawrence which serves the point to emphasise her perspective on the film’s events. Mother! is unique in that it has no score whatsoever, meaning that the tension and the overall unease of the film relies heavily on Lawrence’s performance as well as the sound design. Both of these aspects deliver in spades, with Lawrence turning in a performance that will shun doubters of her commitment to the craft following several uninterested roles in the recent X-men films. She has to evoke a serious amount of emotional range for the role, going from loving to hysterical to petrified in the click of a finger. It’s a performance that perfectly translates her psyche and comes across as very real. The camera is often right up to her face and blocks out her surroundings which gives the film a sense of entrapment and fear.
Every little sound in this film is masterfully crafted. The clink of a glass rings out in a high-pitched whine, the floorboards creak with a strange uncertainty to them. Everything is heightened to an extent that puts you on edge and oozes with unease.
Javier Bardem does a fantastic job as Lawrence’s husband. He’s desperate to rediscover his creative talents which often leads to him neglecting his wife. You see moments of genuine happiness followed by lashes of rage and impulsive behaviour. Bardem’s signature sinister nature works well here as you’re never sure what he’s going to say or do.
Ed Harris is unrecognisable in terms of his performance, playing a vulnerable and emotional man instead of the hardened one we’re used to seeing. Pfeiffer is also wonderful, bringing some of her inner Catwoman attitude to the role. There are also several other minor cameos in the film that I won’t spoil, just know that all of them manage to stick with you for the short time they’re on screen.
There’s a lot to unpack with Mother! so much to the point that everyone will be able to take something different from it. One thing that it doesn’t do is answer a lot of questions, if you’re the type of person who wants confirmation and a proper conclusion then this will leave you frustrated. However, I would recommend this film to anyone just for the experience alone. This is by far the most absurd and crazy film I’ve ever witnessed in a theatre. It’s the type of film that warrants discussion, sharing your theories with one another about what exactly you just saw. Some will find religious themes within while others may take it as a look at what fame does to a relationship, or how we as a species are slowly digging away at our planet.
Mother! is not without its flaws, suffering from some minor pacing issues throughout. At times you’ll be thrust into the chaos and then spend 10 minutes in an intimate setting watching two people have a conversation. It allows you to breathe and process the utter ridiculousness of the previous scene but it also takes you out of the experience a little. Imagine it like a roller coaster ride that throws countless drops and loops at you and then suddenly turns into a relaxing scenic tour before plummeting back into insanity. What you want from a film like this is a constant build, by taking you out of that it removes some of the intensity of the gut punches it intends to throw at you later on.
There are things that happen in Mother! that will cause you to question whether you should get up and leave, it will undoubtedly be too much for some. If you do manage to stick it out however you will leave having seen a piece of cinema history. A film so risky in its loose structure that you can’t help but applaud it for what it’s trying to do. Mother! is going to be divisive, and you might hate it.