mother! (2017)

seeing is believing

mother! is a film which has almost instantaneously caused a rift between audiences and it’s not hard to see why. Confrontational, argumentative, blunt, misogynist (?), misandrist (?), vile, reprehensible and abhorrent … well, that’s what those ‘cooler than me’ were shouting, so of course, I couldn’t wait to see it for myself!

So, what’s it all about? Contrary to what many are saying — folks calling the movie ‘abstract,’ ‘artistic’ and ‘dream-like’ — mother! wields a perfectly straight-forward narrative and purpose, which yields the typical bitter-yet-compelling fruit that writer-director Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan (2010), bears. Themes regarding interpersonal politics between the human species and the natural world, emotional burden, the undressing of personal torment, and savage indictment of religion have permeated throughout most of Aronofsky’s resume and mother! is no exception; in fact, one could argue that this is a culmination of the man’s observations and frustrations, with some additional brain food thrown in to gnaw on.

Mother Knows Best

While the trailers give off a distinct horror vibe à la Rosemary’s Baby (1968), I would argue that mother! is just as much a drama, and it’s here where the true terror resides. In the film, the two lead characters, Mother, played by Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook (2012) — in what is easily going to be considered one of her most challenging roles ever — and Him (Javier Dean Morgan, pardon me, Bardem) are constantly at odds with one other, their personalities so different and diametrically opposed. Mother wants nothing more than to provide all she can for Him, a famous poet who is adored by all, but he rarely, if ever, pays any attention to her labors.

Darren Aronofsky does not believe in pulling punches, chiefly when it comes to heralding the freefall into bacchanalian madness, and this is where the true battle is fought, one between the movie and the audience. Mother is relentlessly shut down, constantly tormented, and left to fend for herself in a rapidly dying light as the darkness, which her husband invites into their serine countryside home and heart, begins to encroach around her. As a note, it’s here where I understand cries of misogyny resonate the loudest. But here’s the thing; Mother is a sympathetic figure, one that viewers basically follow throughout the journey, most eager to see her make it through the treachery she’s forced to endure. Nothing is saying that her ill treatment is permissible or admirable. It’s so easy for somebody to cry foul toward something they do not agree with when they don’t take a moment to look closer and it’s a problem — a problem that still haunts the arts today. If a viewer is willing to take the time to fully examine what they’re looking at and ignore the immediate impulse to knee-jerk, one will find a greater satisfaction and consideration for the work artists have to offer; unless, of course, that artist is Uwe Boll.

All good girls go to heaven.

Other than J-Law (Aronofsky’s now-girlfriend) and Bardem, support players include uninvited houseguests Ed Harris, A History of Violence (2005), who portrays a chain-smoking doctor with a nasty cough, the veteran actor channeling supreme menacing ambiguity with his crystal blue eyes, and a luminary Michelle Pfeiffer, Batman Returns (1992), as his cat-clawing wife; they’re also joined by Domhnall and Brian Gleeson, who play the couple’s bickering grown-up sons, one old, one young (brothers playing brothers, can you imagine?). We even get an unhinged Kristen Wiig, The Skeleton Twins (2014), in a role, which, I personally never saw coming! With that said, the entire cast delivers on their respective roles and it’s not especially challenging for one to see that there is far more to each character than what initially meets the eye.

While one thing I’ve never been accused of is having the eye or instinct of a filmmaker, it goes without saying that the cinematography in Aronofsky’s films is uniformly fantastic and mother! abides by this very same rule. The dreamy, hazy, sensuous lensing and visuals by director of photography Matthew Libatique, Requiem for a Dream (2000), reminded me of a fairytale that had been kissed by morphine lips, this contrasted by stark, troubling and unflinching equivalents, all of which seep into the very soul. The use of sound within this surreal world is conducted in a rich, deliberate fashion, which played my aurals like a sensory orchestral symphony. Void of a traditional-type score, Aronofsky’s regular collaborator Clint Mansell is curiously absent this time around.

It’s all downhill from here …

Truth be told, the middle portion of Aronofsky’s wild fever dream does drag a bit, but I feel it does so to facilitate the growing tensions between characters as opposed to incompetence on the part of the director; regardless, it could’ve been a little tighter. To go any further about the particulars of mother! would require this critique to become a much deeper analysis, but I will not do this as I feel it would perhaps limit another potential audience members’ own perceptions of the narrative and that’s the last thing I want to be responsible for!

mother! is a ripe fruit of a film that is simultaneously luscious and tart and never makes the viewer feel safe. Filled to the brim with provocation, insinuation and the desire to stir conversation and thought, it behooves the watcher to disregard what has been heard, urging them to see this movie so that they may think about what it has to say on their own terms … in other words, this review is somewhat redundant, isn’t it?

4 / 5 – Recommended

Reviewed by Bea Harper

mother! is released through Paramount Pictures Australia