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Anyone familiar with Darren Aronofsky’s previous work, such as Black Swan, will think they know what to expect with his latest film mother! But in truth, there is nothing that can really prepare you for what lies in store. Everything you have heard about this film is true and then some, yet in many ways, it defies description. But let’s try anyway…
mother! stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, two Oscar winners at the very top of their game. He (played by Bardem) is a frustrated poet with writer’s block, she (played by Lawrence) is his wife, who keeps herself occupied renovating his burnt out old house in the middle of nowhere. All is fine until a stranger comes knocking at the door one evening and Bardem invites him to stay the night. This sets off a chain of events that spiral out of control so fast and so spectacularly, that you will be left breathless just trying to keep up.
Taken on face value, mother! is a completely over the top horror film about the danger of letting strangers into your home. A full house might be a great thing to have when you’re playing poker, but for Jennifer Lawrence, it is anything but, as the never-ending onslaught of visitors start to tear her home apart.
But then to take this film at face value is to miss the point completely. mother! is designed to work on so many other levels, from the seven deadly sins on display in Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris’s performances to a far bigger environmental message.
Heavily portrayed throughout the film is the allegory of the house as our planet, with too many people, all wanting their share, showing a complete disrespect for the environment. Some critics have an issue with how quickly the film descends into madness, yet when you look at the speed with which we have ravaged our planet, creating massive and destructive environmental problems in just a matter of years, it is perhaps not as far-fetched as it seems.
mother! is certainly not a film for the faint-hearted, and many people will hate everything about it, whether they get the deeper meanings or not. Even Jennifer Lawrence herself has gone on record to say that it is: “not enjoyable while you are watching it”. “It’s hard to watch. It’s an assault,” she continued. And she should know; filmed in the first person, every single shot in mother! is either of Lawrence’s face, over her shoulder, or her direct point of view, with 66 minutes of the 2hours analyzing her expressions up close and personal.
This result is a fully immersive, claustrophobic viewing experience that drags you into the action, rather than simply letting you watch. You will sit, gripping your cinema seat, with every muscle in your body tensed, and you’ll emerge at the end battered, baffled, and bewildered.
Writer/director Darren Aronofsky says he wrote mother! in a five-day fever dream, and you will share that sense of delirious confusion; that disconcerting feeling of not quite knowing what is real anymore.
But then you will start to think it all through and you’ll find that you won’t stop thinking about it for a very long time. The more you think about it, the more you will find within the onion-like layers of this complex piece of cinema. And the more you find, the more you will come to appreciate its mood and meaning, until, like all the most terrifying fairground rides, you’ll find yourself wanting to rush back around to do it all again.
There is no denying that mother! is utter mayhem. It is madness. It is macabre. It is malevolent. But it might just be a masterpiece, too.