Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Brian Gleeson, Domhnall Gleeson, Kristen Wiig
Run Time: 121 mins
‘mother!’ is one of my most anticipated films of the year mainly because it is directed by Darren Aronofsky. Aronofsky’s entire catalogue (barring his debut ‘Pi’) is extremely strong, a director perhaps most famous for the towering heights of ‘Requiem For A Dream’, ‘The Wrestler’ and ‘Black Swan’. Aronofsky has always been devoted to exploring religion in pretty much all of his films and ‘Noah’, his film prior to ‘mother!’ is a particularly insane Biblical retelling in a mainstream format that could only have been created by this director. Sticking with this theme of creation, the ability to create plays an integral part in a lot of his films, again ‘Noah’ demonstrates this extremely well and ‘The Fountain’ is a similarly bonkers, allegorical account of life.
‘mother!’ has been marketed as a horror-thriler / home invasion film. Jennifer Lawrence (Aronofsky’s current real life muse) plays the titular, unnamed character (all the characters in the film are nameless) who is partner to Javier Bardem’s Him, a poet who is suffering with writer’s block. They lead a tranquil life in their country home where Bardem tries to (and unsuccessfully) write and Lawrence tries to renovate the house, marking their personal stamp on their property. This is all disrupted by the arrival of a man (called Man) played by Ed Harris who mistakes the property for a bed-and-breakfast whom Bardem offers to let him stay. His wife, ‘Woman’ played by Michelle Pfeiffer, arrives shortly after and Bardem’s poet begins to take a strong interest in the characters and finds inspiration for his works when all hell begins to break loose.
Narratively, the film doesn’t take a conventional route and it can be interpreted in many diferent ways. Again, it is extremely allegorical and in my opinion, contains Aronofsky’s signature themes of religion again and I see the film in many way as a continuation of ‘The Fountain’ and ‘Noah’. This is a film that is really going to challenge its audience which has showed by its big divide between critics who generally like the film and audiences who seem to dislike the film. Not that CinemaScore should ever be taken for gospel, but the film scored an F with audiences and there have been many an article online and in print damning the film. Like the vast majority of Aronofsky’s works, ‘mother!’ is more of an experiment into the surreal and spiritual.
One has to be tread very carefully when discussing this film and I am yet to fully form my genuine opinion of the film as the film requires multiple rewatches. My initial response to ‘mother!’ however, is that it is a film that I was enamoured by at times but I also have reservations. The film is a paranoid, nightmarish rush from beginning to end and is set in a world that is desolate, unforgiving and cruel. Lawrence’s character goes through all manners of physical and psychological torture and time and time again, we are made to witness this degradation.
The film showcases all of Darren Aronofsky’s best and worst qualities. Aronofsky revels in exploring religion here again and there are many parallels with the notion of Christianity prevalent in the film. Aronofsky’s characterisations demonstrate this, particularly with Bardem’s character who as the film progresses, is presented as a God-like figure, having physical and creative control of the events that unfold in and he is even referred to rather explicitly as a ‘Creator’. Aronofsky also continues to have a grandiose sense of scale, presenting the house as idyllic and initially a sanctuary that nurtures Lawrence and Bardem’s characters. The house is very much as important a player as the real characters in the film. Equally possible and quite explicitly, Aronofsky is critical of the state of the environmental world, exploring themes of overpopulation and war. The soul of the film literally turns very black as the film continues.
Aronofsky’s reach exceeds his grasp as the film progresses and particularly when the film reaches its latter half and tension really elevates, he can’t quite control the chaos that ensues on-screen. Again, it’s a film that I need to rewatch but I found myself rather lost inside the chaos and found the film hard and jarring to keep up with until it reaches its crescendo. I also found his message (or messages) rather overbearing and explicit (which in hindsight, need to be) in juxtaposition to the more subtle and quieter nature of the first half of the film.
What is easier to determine are the quality of the performances. Jennifer Lawrence continues to impressively progress her career here and she manages to perfectly encapsulate both the idyllic and the torment she faces. She is very much the means to which we explore the film, Aronofsky’s regular cinematographer Matthew Libatique’s lens constantly and uncomfortably focussing on our main character. Javier Bardem has perhaps the meatiest role of the film, a character who we can forgive at first for his seemingly rash decisions but then a character who we feel just as isolated from as Lawrence’s character does too. Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer are also superb here, Pfeiffer particularly unlikeable and smarmy as she begins to tear the couple’s relationship and the house from the inside out. It’s a perfect role for her. Domhnall Gleeson’s performance is also equally paranoid as the film who is also given an important role and Kristen Wiig crops up as a character who her personality perfectly matches too.
The glue to all of Aronofsky’s films thus far has been Clint Mansell’s scores which particularly in ‘Requiem For A Dream’ and ‘The Fountain’ have soared. This is Mansell’s first departure from an Aronofsky film and the film is deeply uncomfortable without it, often giving us a false sense of security. Denis Villeneuve-regular Johann Johannsson had first been approached to score the film and wrote a score but both composer and director came to a mutual decision that the film would be better off sans score. This does work and it only adds to the lack of order and coherence the film has but I think the film could have done with some score in parts to really help the film flow better and give it more weight. In particular when you have Johannsson involved, to throw out a score is sacrilege!
I still haven’t really made up my mind on ‘mother!’ and I doubt I will until I have watched it a few more times. The first two acts are particularly grim and brooding and develop really neatly into what is a bonkers third act. I think I enjoy the film more for its conceptual nature rather than the actual film itself which I found a little hard to get into at times. That said, the film has made a very long lasting impression on me and I keep thinking about it. Aronofsky crafts some really strong and memorable images and I really enjoyed the characterisation. ‘mother!’ reinforces my love of the medium of film particularly as it challenges its audience. It’s not a film designed to just be acceptable and dumb and appeal to the lowest common denominator. I’m not really sure (and it is surely deliberate by Aronofsky) what the film means but on first viewing, I found the film to be delirious, deeply allegorical, manic, paranoid and genuinely unnerving. ‘mother!’ is definitely a film that deserves and I appreciate exists.