PARAMOUNT PICTURES (2017)
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer
What a deliciously, strange, awful, artistic, great movie.
Also, the trailers lied to you. This is not a home invasion/thriller/horror movie.
Darren Aronofsky returns three years after helming Noah. I mention that movie as it is (obviously) a Biblical picture and mother! is really no different. It's chock full of Biblical allegories, allusions and unsubtle references, and a statement of Aronofsky’s vision of the current world.
It’s also a bizarre, twisted and, at times, pretentious trip.
Mother (Lawrence) and her husband, Him (Bardem) – none of the characters are named throughout – live in a dilapidated house in the country, one previously ravaged by fire, though Mother has devoted her time to painstakingly restore their Eden-like “paradise”. Him (this is going to get weird) is a famous poet, but one that is suffering from extreme writer's block that is beginning to take its toll on Mother – she begins to hear the beating heart of the house and sees strange visuals manifesting around the house.
Then one evening, out of the blue, a wheezing old man (named…Man, played by Ed Harris) turns up and is invited in by Him, who offers the freedom of the house and a bed to Man. Obviously, Mother thinks this is clearly weird but is convinced to allow the sick Man to stay overnight. Man is suffering from an unknown sickness and wounds, but that doesn’t prevent him and Him (gah!) from shooting the breeze all night. On a cool morning, things become even stranger and twisted as Man’s wife, Woman (Pfeiffer) shows up and begins to make her arrogant self at home. The two uninvited guests begin to slowly change the dynamic within the house, as Mother begins to drift away from Him on a sea of paranoia, fear and confusion, then, eventually the world is turned upside down as the movie thunderously unfolds.
There’s not much else to say without essentially giving away important plot points or the message in full. The underlying theme seems to be a statement regarding humankind’s treatment of Earth (Mother Earth) or more to the point, its flagrant disregard of it. It’s also clearly an attempt at a new Genesis story with its Eden narrative, then throw in allusions (a.k.a. CHARACTERS) of God, Mary, Cain & Abel (courtesy of Domhnall and Brian Gleeson), Adam and Eve and you start to form a greater picture of what is being told. It’s all cleverly woven into the tapestry, but the messages completely beat you around the head.
There’s a vibe of Rosemary’s Baby initially, and also hints of The Exorcist , with the setup and slow-burning nature of the movie. It’s a strangely unsettling movie, the camera is constantly closed in on Jennifer Lawrence’s face (for a large portion of the movie) or is following her around the house. At any given time, the house will begin to creak and moan and every noise bellows like a thundercloud – all this happening whilst a perplexing narrative unfolds to bend your head just a bit more. The opening two-thirds of the movie is slow, and the pacing is erratic (complete with random musical/sound bursts), letting the suspense and confusion of what is happening settle in. After that, the final third explodes into a rushed, bonkers extravagance of action, gore, shock and chaos – and it’s here the movie pushes the envelope just too far. It seems Aronofsky needed something with which to ‘shock’ the viewer after the near-tedium pace beforehand, so threw in the most provocative image he could – the type Srdjan Spasojevic would applaud him for. It’s too much, but again, it fits with the parable presented.
I thought the movie was well-acted throughout, including during the dreamlike chaos known as the third act where pretty much everything just went to shit and Hell. Lawrence (and her face) carried the movie with raw emotion and a gradual decline into insanity that does nothing but to bolster her already sky-high reputation. Bardem is great in a peculiarly detached performance, he doesn’t show his cards throughout until…well, a certain moment. Harris and Pfeiffer are sneaky, slimy and delightful in their creepiness.
No Darren Aronofsky movie looks bad, including mother! The close-ups on Lawrence and claustrophobically framed and disorientating and there is always just enough background in the shot to keep your eyes and mind wandering. It’s generally a given that his movies will appeal to the eye. There’s no score to the movie, just random and quick sounds to accentuate the scenes feeling, be it fear, confusion or simple dreaminess.
As a movie-going event, mother! is relentless, claustrophobic and a complete sensory experience that draws you in from the first frame and refuses to let you go until the credits start to roll. It’s not to the level of the majestic Black Swan , but there are certainly moments within that stab at that movies high standard. It’ll stay with you for a while, and the unravelling of the story will be undertaken for a long time to come. It’s a very good movie that at the same time isn’t a good movie – it’s a bit of a mess at times, but it’s certainly memorable.
September 15th 2017