By Ryan Keating-Lambert
Mother! is an ambitious passion project that sucks you in with its nightmarish intensity and deafening allegories. A fascinating, but truly disturbing watch. Fans of Aronofsky will love this, and everyone else? I’m not so sure.
Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem star in this surrealist and thrilling tale of Mother Earth which is nearly impossible to categorise.
The film, like the trailer, suggests an homage to Rosemary’s Baby or similar. The couple’s seemingly trivial and quiet lives in their beautiful octagonal home are soon interrupted by a stranger seeking a place to stay. But, one by one, more people arrive, and the obsession with Javier Bardem’s poet / writer character soon becomes the main attraction.
There’s so much going on here, it’s difficult to even know where to start. Mother! is littered with religious symbolism and majority of the main characters could be lined up with prominent biblical figures, laying a strong foundation for the real horror that takes place in the third act. There’s also a strong emphasis on the destruction of the environment going on here. Director Darren Aronofsky is after all, a passionate environmentalist.
The film is full of stand-out performances too. Lawrence is brilliant as the nurturing and anxious Mother Earth, and really pushes herself to the extremes in the third act – she even injured herself during filming. She’s also currently dating director Aronofsky, which is perhaps why she’s managed to give it her all. I also doubt we’ll ever see her in a role like this again. Then there is Michelle Pfeiffer’s ‘wife’ character, who comes in like a whirlwind and really changes up the house dynamic. Her intense and abrasive encounters with Lawrence really get under your skin.
Aronofsky, as usual, has paid careful attention to the metaphoric visuals and cutting edge sound design to really trap you in the octagonal hell that is their house. Like his previous films, the director mainly relies on extreme close-ups and hand-held camerawork by regular director of photography Matthew Libatique. We follow Lawrence’s cherub-like face in and out of every room, and never let her go. This is a fantastic exercise in tension and claustrophobia.
The visuals also stay true to Aronofsky’s signature style and provide some wonderful flashbacks to his other two ‘creation’ tales, The Fountain and Noah. The haunting heart motifs, including the exquisite portrayal on the film’s poster, look like they’re straight out of Noah, and the amber colour scheme reminds us of that womb-like creation light in The Fountain.
It’s the jarring sound library by Johann Johansson though that puts the icing on the cake. The birth scene is especially intense and reminds one of those terrifying drug trips in Requiem for a Dream. By this point, Mother! has become an extremely violent, fast-paced, and surrealist interpretation of the plague of humanity upon mother earth, as well as a strong nod to the trials and tribulations of fame and obsession – themes often explored in Aronofsky films.
The spectacular crescendo in the last half an hour will either make or break you. Lawrence’s wholesome mother-figure and white swan innocence inevitably crumble, and things begin to spiral out of control. There’s also a surprising cameo by Kristen Wiig that serves as one of the film’s most memorable, and disturbing scenes.
Some will consider this to be torture porn. It’s fairly violent and not for the faint of heart. Yes, I’m talking about THAT scene in particular. However, isn’t that the whole point? The ongoing destruction of the earth is hardly subtle, after all.
Fans of Aronofsky’s work are going to love this. Mother! was marketed as a ‘movie that you’re gonna hate’, and some people definitely will. There’s so much going on here that it’s overwhelming at times, and it certainly comes off as pretentious, but this is honestly filmmaking at its best. No matter what your opinion, you’ve got to marvel at the ambition behind it. It really sticks with you.
Photo: Teaser Trailer