I like Darren Aronofsky’s new film MOTHER! I think. Or do I? It’s one that I’m going backwards and forwards on the more I think about it. It’s certainly unique, unequivocally its own thing. That could describe the greater part of Aronofsky’s career, really.
A idyllic lives of a woman and her poet husband (Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem) take increasingly bizarre and destructive turns as strangers arrive unannounced at their house. A doctor and his wife (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) are just the first in an unstoppable tide, and before long their dream home environment becomes a living nightmare.
To derive meaning from this, you’ve got to decide what the space these characters inhabit represents for you. I settled on a meaning quite early on, but I found it harder to make it stick as the plot (probably the wrong word for the passage of time and events here) progresses. There are so many different takes you could have on the bewildering series of sights and sounds that envelop us. Personally I find my own my take on what is going on and what it all means made more of a connection with me than when Aronofky’s intended meaning is made explicit in the closing moments of the film, but everyone’s experience will likely be very different.
There really isn’t much point describing what does or doesn’t happen outside the bare-bones synopsis, but suffice to say something invades this film’s universe. Whether disease, addiction, madness, sin, faith, a dangerous idea, this something slowly but steadily corrupts and eventually it completely takes over the world that Lawrence and Bardem’s characters inhabit.
Aronofsky returns to most of his favourite themes somewhere along the way. Our perception of time is elusive and cyclical, love is also elusive and cyclical, faith influences everything and nothing in our lives, physical forms are broken and reshaped…
Lawrence is at the epicentre of the singularity, always the focus, and always sublime. She’s put through a lot here and is given nowhere to hide, with Matthew Libatique’s camera more often than not inches from her face. Just as a hoarde of strangers invade her space, we the viewer feel guilty for doing the same with the actor. The other film Mother! reminded me most of was Lars von Trier’s MELANCHOLIA, in that the female lead is broken down to her very essence by the weird goings on around her, and in both the viewer is made uncomfortably complicit in watching what she is put through. Everyone else in the cast plays it so (intentionally) odd that it’s difficult to comment on their acting.
You’ve heard of comedies of absurdity, but Mother! is a horror-thriller of absurdity. Just when you think things have gone as far as they possibly can, something is pushed further, you are subject to a new, sickening experience. If you’re prone to any kind of social anxiety, then this film is your worst nightmare. I thought REQUIEM FOR A DREAM was full-on, but it’s nothing compared to this. If Requiem knocks you off your feet to crash painfully to the ground the Mother! hits you with a freight train while you’re down there.
The Oscar sound categories this year surely have to be between DUNKIRK and Mother! They both play with sound, amplifying and distorting, jarring and enrichening their world. Both films prove how important an element of filmmaking sound design is. Mother! is a hyper-sensory experience; as well as aesthetically and sonically bludgeoning the audience, something in the makeup of this queasily fascinating concoction makes you smell the paint, polish and blood, feel the woodgrain. It’s textural. Added to this the ingenious use of space, the impossible, ridiculous house that seems to morph, expand and contract as the lead character’s body and mind is out through the wringer, and you’re utterly enveloped in oddity.
Mother! is going to drive some people mad. It’ll make them absolutely livid. For some directors (Aronofsky, Nicolas Winding-Refn, von Trier), that’s what they set out to do, to provoke a reaction. It’s so ambiguous, so odd and so unlike any other 2017 release that this could be the year’s most argued about film. I’ve got my take(s) on it, have you got yours? SSP