Darren Aronofsky has made possibly the most polarising film of the decade. Mixing psychological horror with heavy handed religious allegories as well as being a satire of fame, mother! is in my opinion one of the best films of the year. However it is certainly not for everyone, thoroughly dividing audiences and critics alike . I’m going to be discussing the plot frankly and in detail including the ending, so please go and see the film before reading!
FULL SPOILERS AHEAD
Written and directed by Aronofsky, mother! has a phenomenonal cast, led by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem. Their nameless characters reside in a large, curiously shaped house, currently being renovated solely by Lawrence after a fire destroyed it. The chemistry between the two leads is why the film works, if their relationship doesn’t click, the film would simply fall flat. Our leads are a couple, living together alone in a large house in the middle of nowhere. Bardem a writer struggling with his creativity, Lawrence the muse, rebuilding and renovating the house they live in.
Unexpectedly, Ed Harris arrives, followed soon after by a mesmerising Michelle Pfeiffer, a married couple with temptation issues. Outstaying their welcome and acting like they own the place, their two sons arrive soon thereafter, one jealously bludgeoning the other to death.
It was at this point that I realised one of the influences of the film, which feels odd to write. Darren Aronofsky has essentially retold the bible as a horror movie. Harris and Pfeiffer are Adam and Eve. The sons, played by real life brothers Domhnall and Brian Gleeson: Cain and Abel. Making Bardem’s character God and Lawrence being mother earth.
Not long after this, Lawrence falls pregnant and Bardem’s new work inspires a legion of new fans and followers, with the tone and style of the film changing as a result. This is Aronofsky’s New Testament section of the film, very different from the first half, complete with a visceral, graphic version of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and a literal take on communion. A warzone of body parts and gore with some of the heaviest and disturbing scenes I’ve ever seen in a mainstream Hollywood movie, that will certainly stick with me for quite a while.
It’s clear to me that Aronofsky is not just retelling the Bible. That would be an insult to the layers and depths that mother! goes to. Coming across at times like a stage play, the basic setting of this bare house enables us to truly digest the performances and story. I feel and I’m sure I’m not alone on this, that the movie is also a comment on the creative process as well as the cost of fame. In fact, you could ignore all the Biblical references and just view the movie as an allegory of the creative process and it would still be a resounding success. Artists of any kind will know the pains and labours of creating something so personal and then letting it go into the world to be criticised, lauded and for people to feel a connection with it, feeling ownership and entitlement of your work. Then of course to attempt to start again and repeat the whole process. As Bardem’s Him says near the end, nothing is ever enough.
I found the cinematography highly original and wholly oppressive, every scene is either of Lawrence’s face, over her shoulder or from her perspective. This really builds a claustrophobic feel, generating an anxious feel and confusing the audience as to the geography of the house. Sometimes feeling that rooms change floors or corridors lead elsewhere. The set design, while bare and bleak, suits the feel of the film. The touches like a bleeding floor and the David Lynch style dreamy shots of something biological within the house starting to turn to ash are the icing on a very bizarre cake.
You can definitely see the influences of the likes of Polanski and Von Trier as well as riffs on his own earlier work , but mother! never really feels derivative, instead existing in its own grim little bubble.
Since leaving the cinema and mulling it over, I’ve changed my review score three times. A captivating, visceral and concise piece of art, mother! is certainly an acquired taste, but will also be talked about for years to come.
For Fans Of: