Writer: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domnhall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson
Running time: 121mins
What’s the story: A young woman is renovating her older husband’s childhood home after a catastrophic fire. But, when strangers appear at the door, events become increasingly unsettling.
What’s the verdict: Mother! is a film for anyone who hates having the family over for Christmas. Or throwing a large party in their home. Because Hell is definitely, defiantly other people in Darren Aronofsky’s extraordinary new movie.
A movie shrouded in secrecy before the emergence of a close-to-release-date trailer that seemed to give away the entire story. Rest easy spoiler-phobes, that promo merely sniffs around the surprises in store.
Jennifer Lawrence is simply named Mother. She is married to Javier Bardem, who sports the equally plain moniker, Him. Mother busies herself rebuilding their large house in rural America following a devastating fire. Him, a poet unable to follow early success, bristles with frustration.
One evening a doctor (Harris) arrives on their porch, believing the house to be a B&B. Seemingly stricken with emphysema, he nonetheless smokes inside and seems a little too familiar with Him indoors.
Suddenly Mother’s husband has invited the stranger to stay, joined by his vampish wife (Pfeiffer). She seems to delight in noting there are no children in the roomy home, suggesting a lack of magic between the sheets and forcing liquor-spiked lemonade on her tremulous host.
Then Harris and Pfeiffer’s kids (the Gleeson brothers) arrive and what has hitherto been uncomfortable becomes wild.
That trailer suggested Rosemary’s Baby’s blood flows through Mother!’s veins and that is true. Aronofsky can frame a partially obscured, muttered conversation with the same conspiratorial tension found in Polanski’s infernal masterpiece.
But, without spoiling surprises, the Black Swan director has bigger concerns than a demonic nipper. Concerns he delights in drip feeding to both Lawrence’s increasingly unnerved heroine and the audience. Seemingly the lone voice of sanity in the now bizarro abode, we cling to her as more strangers arrive and care little for the house she is trying to restore.
While the supporting cast clearly relish their apparently capricious, possibly dangerous, characters, Lawrence remains the primary focus. In lieu of a score, Mother! opts for an aggressive surround sound mix of bustle and cacophony, so her soothing voice becomes the music balancing out the shattering noise.
Not that Mother is permitted to remain serene. As the film progresses, the central character undergoes trials that would make Lars von Trier blanch. Although we think the BBFC 18 is excessive; despite some upsetting imagery 15-year-olds should be able to experience this in cinemas.
There are obvious Eden metaphors (Lawrence is trying to create a perfect home, hellish motifs of flame and heat run throughout), plus themes of ambition, greed, celebrity, social paranoia, and a good old-fashioned war of the sexes (the film would make a good companion piece to War of the Roses).
On the flip side, as Mother! barrels into its second, untamed half, notions of reality and decency evaporate in an orgy of escalating outlandishness. With its bleeding walls and floorboard, it looks like a horror film, but as the cheese dream insanity mounts it moves beyond any single genre.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say Mother! is like experiencing Pi, Requiem for a Dream, Noah and Black Swan as one movie. With infusions of Ben Wheatley’s High Rise and Alfonso Cauron’s Children of Men. Action may be confined to the house, but this is audacious cinema, not transposed theatre.
The temptation is to cry out, “To what end any of this”? Is it all sound and fury with little reward? What is real and what is paranoid imagagining?
We were worried oursleves, but Aronofsky has answers. Answers that bowled us over with their fearlessness, even if some press screenings have seen applause mixed with boos.
Quite the marmite movie then. But, we were taken with this yummy mummy.