Jacob Richardson | 23/09/2017
With Mother!, Darren Aronofsky is both shocking, and shockingly creative.
Mother! follows Jennifer Lawrence’s character as she renovates her brooding poet husband (Javier Bardem)’s house. The husband has writer’s block, but when a mysterious man comes to the door, shortly followed by a woman, he brings with him both the object to remove the husband’s writer’s block and what seems to the wife to be a never-ending stream of disconcerting strangers into the house.
It is difficult to describe Aronofsky’s latest work; indeed, to describe it in any detail prior to a viewing is perhaps detrimental to the viewer. There is much to be said for viewing the film cold; with no knowledge of what it actually is beforehand. For those who continue reading, we will reveal some snippets of plot, so be forewarned.
Many critics have called the film crass, vulgar and overwhelming, and in many respects it is these things. But it is also an extremely well-functioning allegory that needs these elements to break it’s myriad messages through the noise of the picture. Lawrence plays Mother Earth; her husband God (Bardem’s character name is Him in the credits - the only character name that is capitalised). The first mysterious stranger, credited as man and played by Ed Harris, is Adam, and his conniving, disdainful and perpetually drunk wife is Eve (Michelle Pfeiffer). They break Bardem’s crystal heart in his study, thereby incurring his wrath, right before Man’s two sons (here allegories for Cain and Abel) fight in the foyer. The back half of the film turns into a New Testament tale, with Bardem becoming some sort of prophet that overwhelms the house, until the rooms are full of war, murder, violence, famine, and everything else man has inflicted upon the world. After their new baby is horrifically done away with, Lawrence and Bardem’s relationship is destroyed, leading to a climactic decision from Lawrence that involves a blazing fire.
The baby moment is horrific. It’s gratuitous, and shocking, and will have you covering your mouth, or eyes, in disgust. But it’s also necessary to tell this story in the way Aronofsky wants to tell it, because he isn’t interested in spoon feeding you message; this is an exercise in world-building more than anything else. Except, instead of building expansive Middle Earth or Westeros worlds, Aronofsky builds his with metaphor and allegory. It’s tremendously effective. As you watch the final half of the film, all the confusion you felt in earlier parts is paid off on, and a wave of understanding hits you. It makes it that much more interesting to watch; like putting together a puzzle, you’ll be searching for the missing pieces long after you leave the theatre.
Mother! is also anchored by engaging performances by its uniformly excellent cast. Lawrence is spectacular, ratcheting up the intensity bit by bit until it explodes, while Bardem is perfectly cast (given his history as tyrannical villains) in the Him role, bringing a suspicion that never truly leaves. Harris, Pfeiffer, Domnhall Gleeson and even the briefly appearing Kristen Wiig all perform at the very top of their game, and it makes for an incredibly engaging piece of cinema.
The film famously received an F cinemascore, and that’s entirely fine. Aronofosky’s film is about craft. It’s an utterly amazing achievement, building these metaphors and allegories into an original story centred around a man and woman in a remote house. It’s brought together by exceptional acting, set design and cinematography. The twisty turny house allows the camera to move in and out of scenes, viewing the same room in different light each time. Indeed, this may well be a great descriptor of the film; a story we know well, told from a different angle than what we are used to.
Mother! is a triumph of original cinema, made by filmmakers and performers at the top of their game. Don’t believe the negative hype - it’s a must see.