Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson
Plot: A stay-at-home wife (Lawrence) to struggling writer (Bardem) builds her house up, only for her husband to invite strangers to stay with them.
mother!, right from the off, is a strange film. On the surface, it might pass for ordinary (in the same way, three chipmunks in a long coat might pass for a human), as two unnamed characters, a married couple, make their way around a barren house, she building it up, while he, a poet, struggles with second novel syndrome. However, you can tell it is artsy from the absence in narrative. They are not given names, there is an unspoken gap between them (while they are friendly to one another, they are also, surprisingly, cold), and the cinematography purposefully feels empty. There is an absence of score, so the silence builds up and up. Jennifer Lawrence wanders around a house and Aronofsky directs it like a horror. While nothing is happening on-screen, something is going on and the audience’s job is to work out what that is. The film builds and builds, giving nothing away. Odd plot development is followed by odder plot development. At first, you are straining to piece together the scenes. This is a story with one jigsaw piece missing and you are hungry to figure out what that hidden detail is that will bring all of these seemingly random and baffling moments together into a pleasing whole. The film never truly gives you this answer, simply getting stranger and stranger. Bardem’s husband lets unnamed people roam around his house, frustratingly open and forgiving, while his long-suffering wife fumes silently in the background. It is easy to see why, in certain circles, mother! went down like a ton of bricks. There is a certain arrogance about films of this calibre that delight in holding the truth away from you, wowing with set-pieces, Aronofsky great at filming ‘nothing’ with strange detail, but not with story. The actors do a lot with nothing, their characters hidden from the audience to the point, where we cannot fathom the depth. Bardem, an actor famous for playing villains, is the sure gamble of turning nasty by the end, but the movie is a lot smarter than that. Is Bardem the bad guy here? It is a topic up for debate. Meanwhile Lawrence is asked to hold the screen with little yet manages it amazingly well. By the end, it is a shocking performance of pure emotion, the uncomfortable, shudderingly raw stuff that nightmares are made up of. If only the audience can stick through the dwindling build-up, frustratingly dull. This is the kind of film where you stick with the indulgent slow-burn from the director, praying that the conclusion or twist, will make the wait for a pay-off worth it.
And whether mother! can do that for you totally decides whether you like or hate this movie. The answer is never fully revealed, although by the final third the metaphor is heavy-handed enough to open your eyes. Perhaps Aronofsky wants you to not get it the first time around and then resort to Google to figure out what the hell just happened. The idea is likely that the answer will inspire you to watch it a second time to see how neatly the pieces fall into place. In fairness, the twist is a bloody good one. It answers everything adequately enough, leaving space for the viewer to fill in the gaps about what Aronofsky means by his choice in story. It is, as with all of Aronofsky’s work, a film born from passion. It is very frustrating to review, as there are paragraphs worth of content to be examined and scrutinised. While mother! right now is not a popular topic, given time, hopefully this will be a film of great debate. It is a story begging to be talked about across the globe. Who was Jennifer Lawrence’s character meant to be? Who was the villain of the piece? What is the moral of the story? The answer will likely be a pessimistic one. Without figuring out the meaning behind the text and mother! simply makes for a very uncomfortable watch. By the end, it is a baffling torrent of horror. Discussing it would be ruining the discovery of this film for the reader, but the final few moments are hard to stomach. One scene is simply revolting, as is a moment just afterwards, where Jennifer Lawrence finds herself at the mercy of an angry crowd. The final verdict: Aronofsky is a brave director. Is that a good thing? I am not quite sure yet.
Final Verdict: mother! is a tough watch, disturbing and not exactly flowing with logic. However, it is also rich and, if nothing else, vividly memorable.