Director: Darren Aronofsky
Screenplay: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer
Runtime: 121 Minutes
This much must be acknowledged in some form regardless of the subjective views on his work; Darren Aronofsky is one of the great living American auteurs, creating deeply allegorical visual poems through extravagant staging and narrative manipulation, with a penchant for body horror and the library of influential Giallo horror cinema. No matter what genre he’s tackling he swings like a maniac to hit as many targets as he can in everything he does. Following his bold and heavily divisive step into blockbuster filmmaking with Noah, his step back into more traditional art house territory has produced mother! He’s the best at what he does, and what he’s cultivated here might be the most ‘him’ he’s ever been.
mother! can stand for a great many things but despite the discussion regarding its enigmatic marketing material – which leans heavily on the works of Polanski – is only the tip of the iceberg concerning the direction that the narrative takes once it starts to move. It’s a film of constant noise in spite of its lack of score, with every scratch or clang of cutlery echoing like a migraine in the head of Mother (Jennifer Lawrence), as her idealised paradise of a home with Him (Javier Bardem) is being invaded by nameless individuals who carelessly dismantle and damage everything in sight.
Though beginning like a chamber piece drama with the appearance Man (Ed Harris) and Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), it transforms into something approaching a violent soap opera as they bring their personal baggage into the home and irrevocably stain the house with sin. The slow descent into chaos triggers a metamorphosis within the sharp construct of the house and our lead, and in its final movement becomes a literal nightmare of design as the dream logic running the narrative begins to turn in on itself like a collapsing star. Due to Aronofsky’s brand of popular surrealism, it’s a spectacle in the way that the staging of the houses multiple tiers and rooms take on new and terrifying forms as the brilliant editing and sound design feeds the fevered physical sets as everything turns to depravity and unspeakable acts of genuinely hard to watch violence.
Without giving too much away – although the use of single word titles might give some of the game away – the parable is a pungently drawn depiction of biblical proportions that speaks not only of the nature of creative types, humanity, mother earth and the nature of sin, but also of paternity and the smaller scale system of abuse that Mother is trapped in within the confines of the house. Her desire to leave is to forsake the love that she holds for her considerably older partner, which in itself feels like a metaphor for Aronofsky’s own personal life and state of mind.
mother! sees him work through many of his own issues regarding parenthood, love, atheism and the tortured soul of a creative adored by many that to any lesser filmmaker might come off as odious, but here is just one element of many which overlap and absorb one another in a cauldron of pandemonium. His vision of women oppressed by the shackles of societal expectations and toxic masculinity are manifested like never before here, and feel like they are tainting and killing the love of Mother for Him and her position as she stands as a helpless onlooker to events, incapable of breaking the cycle that may always lead back to the same result.
mother! is the kind of pure cinematic experience that can only be provided by the few still willing to risk as much on their work regardless of their reputation. Where the response from an audience feels like it could only be strong as a means of dealing with the experience that they are put through, and certainly not everyone is going to find something in its concoction to savour. It’s an oppressive, darkly comic, broadly painted work that at times feels absolutely insane in mindset. It’s too rewarding and layered to disregard and will be pored over for years to come as the stark and divisive experience that it ultimately becomes.