UK Release Date: 15th September 2017
Runtime: 121 minutes
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writer: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson, Kristen Wiig
Synopsis: A poet and his wife, living in a secluded woodland home, find their lives taking a bizarre turn when a pair of strangers arrive at their home, only for the poet to let them stay.
It’s tough to know where to begin a review of Darren Aronofsky‘s psychological horror mother! after it has already become the most talked about movie in years. This is a film that completely polarised critics – Rex Reed called it the “worst movie of the century”, while Peter Bradshaw described it as “a thing of wonder” – and infuriated audiences to the point that it has a rare, damning F-grade CinemaScore. It certainly hasn’t left anyone cold. Aronofsky’s film is a sensory assault with a dark, twisted heart and layers of rich allegory. Love it or hate it, mother! is a transformative cinema experience that embodies the power of the big screen.
A poet afflicted by writer’s block (Javier Bardem) lives in a quiet clearing with his devoted wife (Jennifer Lawrence), who has rebuilt their home after an enormous fire. Their life is simple and quiet until a mysterious man (Ed Harris), claiming to be a doctor, turns up at the house, believing it to be a bed and breakfast. The next day, the man’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives and begins to be incredibly over-familiar with her hosts. It isn’t long before very unusual things begin to happen in the home and everyone loses their grip on reality.
If you ask people how they feel about mother! as they leave the cinema, as CinemaScore did, the response will inevitably be one of shock, disgust and surprise. Aronofsky has constructed a singular, nightmarish hellscape that works best when it has been allowed to ferment and fester in the brain.
The tendrils of its allegory, its performances and its boundary-pushing cinematic style need time to entangle themselves around your mind, ensuring the film lodges itself deeper in your head than a Beatles chorus so that you can’t stop thinking about it. A knot formed in my stomach in the opening moments and it didn’t loosen until long after I left the cinema. I didn’t know a film could give you heartburn before this.
It’s impossible to unpick the allegory and themes of mother! in detail without spoiling the surprises of its third act but, needless to say, Aronofsky covers everything from fame and creativity to religion and the all-encompassing power of love. The film wears its influences on its sleeve, with its yawning, creaking house reminiscent of the seemingly alive Overlook Hotel in The Shining and the foreboding flashbulbs of its third act oddly recalling parts of Asif Kapadia‘s Amy. Its nightmarish excesses are pure David Lynch, its woman experiencing emotional paranoia feels like Polanski’s Repulsion and the rabid consumption of the finale even brings to mind Brian Yuzna‘s depraved satire Society.
The success of mother! owes a large debt to its star. Jennifer Lawrence delivers a committed, mesmerising performance that makes the most of the spotlight she is given. An enormous percentage of the film is given over to close-ups of Lawrence’s face, amplifying the claustrophobia and intensity of the movie. Lawrence commits whole-heartedly to Aronofsky’s carnage and it’s fair to say she appears to endure things here that would make even Hitchcock question his tactics. Bardem is nicely ambiguous as a tortured artist with something sinister beneath his jovial surface and Michelle Pfeiffer has a great time with her brief moments.
Arononofsky has constructed an epic cacophony of cinematic trickery with mother!, from the disorientating madness of its cavernous central building, which seems to have endless rooms and doorways, to the button-pushing moments that threaten to unbalance the entire movie. It’s a raucous nightmare of a film that flirts with allegory on a number of levels to create a rich tapestry that begs to be unpicked at length in the days after you see it. You’ll just have to catch your breath first.
Pop or Poop?
After a summer of infuriatingly safe blockbuster movies, mother! is as refreshing as it is depraved. It’s not a film that’s easy to enjoy, but it completely consumes its audience and wraps itself around their neck like a boa constrictor. Jennifer Lawrence shines with fearless work in the role of a lifetime and, by the time it all goes completely Pete Tong in the third act, it’s impossible not to be caught up in the sheer insanity of it all.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.