Written and Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Cinematography by Matthew Libatique
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfieffer
Film Review by Euan Franklin
The scariest films are those without a HORROR! tag on them. There are no preambles or anticipations for mother!, beyond the recent controversies surrounding the film. The plot has been efficiently kept hush-hush, and Darren Aronofsky is an unpredictable filmmaker. He’s tackled drug-infused nightmares, wrestlers in spandex, and schizophrenic ballerinas; even delving into the biblical epic, which nobody talks about. But what can we expect from Aronofsky now?
Much like Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, the characters aren’t given names. Jennifer Lawrence plays the wife of a struggling poet, played by Javier Bardem, as they try to start their lives in a desolate house in the middle of nowhere. Peaceful. But it’s not long before there’s a knock on the door, and the quiet tranquillity of their home is invaded by strangers. A doctor (Ed Harris) passes through, and he’s a fan of the poet’s work. Then his wife (Michelle Pfieffer) arrives. And their sons arrive. Before long, more people flood through the house. And they won’t leave. We are slowly sucked into a Kafkaesque nightmare – full of darkness, despair, and confusion.
Despite being too indie to be considered a genre film, mother! wields all the traits of a haunted house horror movie. Aronofsky is clearly in awe of The Shining: with a writer who does anything to distract himself from writing, strangers having sex in bedrooms, and blood seeping out of open crevices. But most of all, this is a horror film for introverts. Lawrence’s character wants nothing more than to be alone with her husband, but his detestably extroverted personality cannot help but let strangers stay in their home.
Aronofsky throws in dozens of interpretable themes that, by the end, we feel like we’re being violently whisked around a mixing bowl. Parenthood, sexism, patriarchy, oppression, religion, celebrity-worship, warzone mentalities – so wild and varied, you can’t settle on just one. It’s dizzying, and everything spirals out of control, expanding the fear of the unknown and leaving us somewhat traumatised in a world reality doesn’t agree with.
Lawrence delivers the most demanding performance of her career, and, like Natalie Portman in Black Swan, she is never left alone by Matthew Libatique’s close and shaky camerawork. There is rarely a shot that isn’t catered to Lawrence or to her character’s point-of-view, creating intensely subjective visuals. Lawrence and Libatique work seamlessly together to inject us into her perspective, and in doing so we feel her pain and frustrations – as if we’re enduring the same journey. Not even the intimidating passivity of Javier Bardem can match her performance. This is very much her film.
mother! is a surreal, severe, marmite movie: you’ll either love it, or you’ll want to burn it. If you’ve enjoyed the dark, surreal explorations by von Trier and Nicolas Winding Refn, this is definitely the film for you. And it’s a must for Aronofsky fans. It doesn’t quite reach the despair of Requiem for a Dream, but achieves a level far more gruesome. One scene in particular requires a strong stomach, and it’s unlike anything I’ve seen in horror or exploitation cinema. But it’s brilliant and even beautiful, in the darkest possible way. mother! is Aronofsky’s greatest film, but it’s a stain on my soul. Like Lawrence’s character, I’ll never be released.