Visceral, surreal and often absurd, Darren Aronofsky’s ‘mother!’ is a battering ram of a movie that ratchets up the tension until it reaches a ridiculous finale that almost assaults the viewer. This is by no means a bad thing though, the film is a thought-provoking and incredibly memorable exercise in the ludicrous, a fever dream that cements itself a place in the brain. It’s the work of a visionary director unafraid to push boundaries, utilising it as an allegory for complex themes that he clearly has something to say about, and does so unflinchingly.
Aronofsky has never been shy to push mainstream boundaries in the past, doing so with the likes of The Fountain and exploring the depths of psychological horror with Black Swan, and here he does so again, crafting something that is thoroughly uncomfortable to watch but in a mesmerising way. The foreshadowing begins at the very start as the film opens with female eyes wreathed in flame, and from there we are dropped in to an idyllic looking house in the middle of the countryside, and start to follow Jennifer Lawrence’s character, the ‘mother’ of the title, a loving and doting housewife. A very large proportion of the film follows Lawrence, the camera either moving with her as she walks through the house or focusing on her face as she reacts to the increasingly disturbing things happening there, which means a lot of the onus for emotional reaction to events is on Lawrence, and she handles that pressure admirably. It’s an unflinching, brave and ambitious performance wrought with the fiercest, most difficult emotions and one that she delivers incredibly convincingly.
The scale of Aronofsky’s ambition is admirable in and of itself, but a large responsibility for making it work falls to his cast, all of whom are brilliant in their roles. Javier Bardem excels as the husband of Lawrence’s character (none of the characters are expressly named), a writer who is struggling for inspiration. He brings all his usual charisma to the role, and he and Lawrence play fantastically off each other throughout. The likes of Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer are excellent too, with Pfeiffer in particular putting in her best performance of recent years as a thoroughly repellent character who comes to stay at the house. The cast grows wider as the film goes on, and all of them do a great job of maintaining the sense of tension, tightening the string of the film continuously until it breaks in explosive fashion.
The wild, delirious, frenetic tone of the film is entirely in keeping with the experience of Lawrence’s character, through whose eyes the events are experienced. Her growing horror at what occurs is no doubt echoed by the audience, the psychological effect it has on her mirrored in turn by the feeling of dread, and sometimes disgust, the film inspires in its audience. It’s easy to see why the film has been as divisive as it has, after all it makes no real effort to be ‘liked’ in a conventional way, but it grasps on to you and doesn’t relinquish that grasp for a long time after the end of the film, its layered meanings and allegorical implications provoking a lot of thought.
Technically and thematically superb, ‘mother!’ is the work of a fearless film-maker. In an era where mainstream cinema is often accused of a lack of originality, directors like Aronofsky who are eager to not only think outside the box but to outright attempt to destroy it are valuable and films like this are thus important. It’s an example of a film that may have flaws, indeed its absurdity may go too far in its final act, but embraces them fully with such commitment that it actually isn’t harmed as an overall work, managing to overcome its shortcomings with ambition. A remarkable film that can be read and understood, or indeed misunderstood, in many different ways, and one that may need a while after viewing to work its tendrils in to your mind.
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