mother! [2017]

Directed and Written by: Darren Aronofsky

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson

The filmography of Darren Aronofsky surely must be one of the most eclectic, varied and decidedly non-establishment collections of any prominent ‘big name’ American director working today, especially given the caliber of actors he has worked with. Even his last turn Noah, perhaps his weakest effort, still managed to defy expectations, resulting in a biblical film quite like no other, whereas The Wrestler hinted at perhaps a stylistic change– that is, until we saw Black Swan. Here, he returns to what he does best– much like Black Swan– mind-bending-storytelling.

The opening premise is deceptively simple: a couple (Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence, who aren’t given names, adding a strange disconnect between the film and audience) are living alone in a large, isolated house. The wife is rebuilding what is her partner’s house after it burnt down, and she is doing it alone; the first of many suggestions that their relationship isn’t all roses. While she repairs the house and repaints, he sits in his study writing poetry.

That is, until a ‘Man’ (an incredibly off-beat, eccentric and convincing Ed Harris – sorry Sati, this won’t be an opportunity to perve!) stops by unannounced, suggesting that he was in the area and wanted to meet the great poet. Appealing to the artist’s ego, the ‘Man’ is more than eager to not only let this stranger in, but is also willing to let him stay the night.

Oh, and his family is more than welcome too.

We start off slow, but the tense and unsettling atmosphere lingers in the background and gradually, and more importantly, consistently, grows to the point of delirium. Much like Requiem For A Dream, Aronofsky displays his skill in delivering a truly hectic climax that is almost overwhelming, and certainly will be for some viewers.

This is going to be a somewhat polarising film; the best ones always are.

The film also feels like a stage play, as all the action is confined to the house the couple share, and within that house only five or so rooms are utilised. This effectively creates an extremely claustrophobic atmosphere, and this feeling is amplified with the near-perfect pace as the film shifts through the gears.

We also experience much of this film via the mother; many scenes involve close-ups of Lawrence, while there are some scenes that are shot from her POV. This effectively puts us firmly in her shoes, and subsequently smack in the middle of the story. 

There are many themes to unpack here if one is so inclined, including but not limited to marriage equality and psychological trauma, the dismissal of a younger partner by outside observers, not to mention various biblical/messiah references. There is also the oddity of a poet being as famous as he is in the 21st century– an interesting choice to provide a basis for an ego that perhaps isn’t where it should be.

However, possible themes aren’t the focus here. This is an experience. It must be adsorbed with full immersion to achieve its desired effect.

Lawrence delivers perhaps her best performance– at least since her turn in American Hustle– and Bardem effortlessly portrays the slightly odd poet. Ed Harris and Michelle Pfieffer are also excellent in playing the intrusive and passive-aggressively judgemental intruders.

Perhaps borrowing a little too much from Polanski’s Apartment trilogy, Rosemary’s Baby in particular (though we knew this already), mother! still manages to stand out from the pack due to its variety of themes and Aronofsky’s unique approach to film; not to mention his apparent disdain for conventional output. This is also his first film without an original score; the almost complete lack of a soundtrack helps ratchet up the atmosphere further as we wonder what lies around the corner.

With a sedate but tense first act, mother! gradually and expertly raises the stakes and subsequently the action, as the couples’ sanctuary is befouled in more ways than one.

One could confidently say that the second part of the film serves as one of the best examples of a truly horrid nightmare on film, as the invasion of the mother’s privacy is shattered constantly and unnervingly. She cannot make sense of any of it, while her partner seems oblivious.

Many answers are left open to interpretation, and this is how it should be. Kudos to Aronofsky for making a picture like this, surely not an easy feat in the world of Hollywood blockbusters. That at least three big names are attached to such a dark project is commendable. While not entirely unique, mother! is certainly worth more than one viewing, and needless to say, this is simply essential viewing for fans of Polanski’s early classics, as well as those who enjoy Aronofksy’s darker work– especially Black Swan.

A full sixer, without question. The best movie of the year?