Darren Aronofsky/2017/USA/121 mins
On general release
Darren Aronofsky’s latest film has been receiving a wide range of reviews, with critics either praising it or outright hating it. Certainly Aronofsky’s decision to plunge completely into such visually and narratively-surreal depths is a remarkable one, considering the A-list cast that he has managed to persuade to come on board what is a decidedly uncommercial project. The film follows Mother (Jennifer Lawrence), who is working hard to rebuild the fire-damaged home of her poet husband Him (Javier Bardem). However, the couple’s seemingly-idyllic existence is threatened when a married couple, Man (Ed Harris) and Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) pay a visit. When Mother discovers that Man has a connection with Him, her world begins to fall apart, with not only her relationship but her very existence being threatened by every new and devastating development.
Aronofsky’s direction bravely embraces the extreme elements of the premise, utilising visceral and disturbing imagery, ranging from a bleeding lightbulb, to a graphic sequence late in the film involving newborn sacrifice. He is aided by the performances of the cast, who are all-around excellent. Bardem effectively conveys the intense, controlling nature of Him, whilst Pfeiffer slyly plays on Mother’s lack of children, and from that, the lack of sexuality in her relationship with Him. However, it is Lawrence who really holds the film together. Her performance as Mother is her best to date, evolving (or devolving) from being mildly confused and perturbed by Man and Woman’s unwelcome intrusion; to screaming, crying and angrily striking out at the forces that threaten her and her desire to have a stable family with her husband, alone from the ravenous public that invade her home.
Whilst Aronofsky and Lawrence, as well as other critics, have encouraged Biblical and environmental readings of the film, the trials that Mother undergoes can be said to also represent the pressures of fame and its effect on a young wife who is struggling to establish her own identity. This is especially apparent in the film’s second half, where Him’s new-found creativity results in an army of admirers invading the home and not only separating Mother from Him, but also from her baby. The film’s ending, which also mirrors its opening, further emphasises this issue, suggesting that history will repeat itself.
mother! isn’t a film for everyone, yet it is worth watching if only to marvel at the fact that a major studio (Paramount) and A-list acting and directing talent were involved in producing a film that might possibly be the most subversive mainstream release of the decade.