28th Sep2017

‘mother!’ Review

by Joel Harley

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Brian Gleeson, Domhall Gleeson, Jovan Adepo, Amanda Chiu, Patricia Summersett, Eric Davis, Raphael Grosz-Harvey, Emily Hampshire, Abraham Aronofsky, Luis Oliva, Stephanie Ng Wan | Written and Directed by Darren Aronofsky

mother-poster

One could argue all day as to what Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is or isn’t all about. And while its message is surprisingly straightforward, the one thing it isn’t really about is the thing in the title: Mother! isn’t much about motherhood at all. So what is mother! and why does it need that exclamation mark which troubles my spell-checker so?

Jennifer Lawrence is front and centre throughout, filmed almost entirely in close-ups and lengthy, unbroken shots which follow her all around the house. That house, painstakingly renovated by Mother (because of course it’s the sort of movie where no-one is named in the script) is the home of Him (Javier Bardem), a troubled but famous poet, and her husband. The house, more than either of them, is Mother!’s (screw you, exclamation mark) most rounded character; a creepy, creaking, haunted, haunting Gothic mansion granted religious importance in its framing by Aronofsky.

The relative tranquillity of the couple’s existence is interrupted when, one evening, a man (Ed Harris) comes knocking on the door, claiming to have mistaken the place for a Bed and Breakfast. To Mother’s dismay, her husband invites the stranger to stay. From there, it spirals out of control, with the man’s boozy wife (Michelle Pfeiffer!) joining the impromptu house party and quickly showing poor Mother who’s boss.

mother! is a Darren Aronofsky home invasion movie; a horror movie farce which will leave the socially anxious hiding behind their own hands, curled up in tight balls of cringe. Jennifer Lawrence, cinema’s perennially saddest face is perfectly cast as the victim, subjected to every manner of abuse possible by both her uninvited guests and her own husband. It does for house parties what Psycho did for the shower, or Jaws the ocean.

To say much more would be to spoil a truly unpredictable, apocalyptic second half which more than justifies those who would call mother! a horror film: this is difficult, introspective filmmaking by Aronofsky. Lawrence may be in almost every frame of the movie, but this is the poet’s story – a movie about destructive artistic tendencies, man’s ego, and repeated cycles of violence, both physical and not. That Aronofsky has cast his real life lover as the artist’s muse adds another tier to this house of carefully stacked cards, the controversial age difference between Lawrence and Bardem becoming a working plot point here. In the end, mother! is surprisingly easy to read, as the leads pretty much come out and say it by the end, during the film’s most awkwardly scripted moment.

But by then, the viewer will either be all the way on board or already have given up on the film. mother! is deliberately polarizing, in both its treatment of its lead and its sheer artificiality. It’s uncomfortable, grim viewing (although there are moments of black comedy in its excesses) and its treatment of poor Mother will have many tuning out in disgust – well before the violence turns physical and the horror more overt.

That mother! exists at all – and at the multiplexes, no less – is both mystifying and wonderful. That it does so standing on the shoulders of a loving woman (A-lister Lawrence will no doubt be a big audience draw) adds yet another juicy layer to its central message and bleak finale. The viewer may well hate it, but mother! needs to be seen to be believed. Or rather, experienced.

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