This is a film that you will either love or hate. There really isn’t an in between on this one. Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is a biblical retelling through the unconventional setting of a home as the sole location. Featuring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as mother and Him, a married couple who live in a huge house built by the former while the latter works on his writing. mother is decorating the home and longs for a family but this is refused by Him, who is consumed by his own work to care about what mother wants. Compared to previous offerings by Aronofsky such as Black Swan, mother! is a literally and figuratively contained film. At no point do we lose sight of mother as we follow her perspective as chaos ensues. At first, the house seems open and spacious but this quickly shifts to a claustrophobic palace of mayhem as mother’s space is literally invaded by outsiders. When mother falls pregnant, she is forced to endure the increasing attention for her husband and the exposure that leaves no stone unturned in the house.
Directed and written by Aronofsky, mother! is a film that plays out like a mystery. Because we don’t see the outside world, we don’t know what or who will come next. This makes it one of the most shocking films to watch, especially when the first casualty plays out. Definitely one of the best filmmakers today, Aronofsky leaves the meaning of the film and his own intention to the imagination of the author. One can watch it from religious, feminist and even mental health angles. It’s a film that is left wide open for interpretation. There is a clear argument for the conflict between mankind and nature. The brutality and expressionist approach to the film can make it uncomfortable for viewers which is probably why it split critics and audiences alike. However, I was one of the viewers who was left in awe from the brilliance in every aspect.
Jennifer Lawrence draws out a brilliantly and fully dramatic performance that we haven’t seen since Winter’s Bone. In between the aforementioned and mother! there was an increased focus on characters with a comedic side with Lawrence starring in dark comedy-dramas as well as protagonist Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games franchise. It’s a performance that demands a lot on expression and physicality as mother is a character of few words. We see her initial comfort turn into catastrophe and panic as more and more people invade the house and ruin what she has built. Javier Bardem is yet again fantastic as the villainous Him. He is perfect at playing such a manipulative character whose motivations are inspired only by himself for himself. Him is careless and seemingly the reasonable one but even as he loses control, he cannot let go of the admiration of the visitors. Their love for him is more important than the love given to him by mother.
The supporting cast is led by Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris as woman and man, respectively, who both pull off menacing performances as the initial outsiders who enter the house. Immediately, mother is discomforted and disturbed by their visit and Him’s insistence that they stay for as long as they like. Pfeiffer particularly is so magnetic and draws in a deeply sexual performance that equally disgusts and intrigues mother, who is puzzled by their lax attitude towards sex and openness in conversation. As mother observes, we see woman and man worship Him whilst simultaneously break house rules and venture where they shouldn’t.
There are so many scenes worth delving into but none left me speechless in the way that the shot following mother as the house descends into chaos did. Each room has a different form of punishment with herod (Kristen Wiig) shooting people in one and a SWAT team bursting through the windows and beating people up. Despite the increasing tension, the bloody violence still comes across as shocking and unexpected. Equally as heartbreaking is the scene that follows after mother gives birth. As we witness her descent into madness and the end product that the destruction has had on the house, the realisation that there is no way to repair what has happened is still heartbreaking. It’s a film that knows its pace and doesn’t desire to fit into the mainstream.
Overall, mother! is a film that allows Aronofsky to be experimental and reject the basic beginning, middle, end linear structure with a clear plot. I think it is a film that shows Aronofsky at his best. He has always been great at developing complex female characters with an expressionist approach to direction. He has a classical eye when it comes to inspiration and is inspired by music, art, ballet, film. He is brilliant at finding beauty in the ugly and drawing that out, contrasting what we are seeing with new ideas. This is evident in mother! as the mere inspiration and idea of seeing the Holy text contrast with the horrific events is something that hasn’t been done before.
What do you think of mother!? Let me know in the comments below!