I… I don’t know how to review this. Congratulations Aronofsky. You broke me.
Mother! (2017) is an (existential?) horror film written and directed by Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream). It stars Jennifer Lawrence as the mother, a young woman married to ‘Him’ (Javier Bardem) who lives in a large isolated home that she is currently remaking. However, their relationship is tested when two mysterious guests (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) turn up unannounced and start intruding on their lives.
Yet another one of those films that was equally booed and cheered, not just at Venice but also in my own theatre. And quite frankly, I can understand both positions. Mother! is a film that many will detest not for unfounded reasons, but it also does exactly what great art should do – elicit a powerful response. And its a response that’s going to stay with me for a very long time… whether I want it to or not.
Getting the basics out of the way to begin with, and Aronofsky (regardless of his writing) clearly knows how to make a film. Its supremely well shot and composed, with an incredible control over tone. In addition, all the main performances are exceptional. While I was a little unsure of Jennifer Lawrence initially, she proves her prowess by the end and it was interesting to see a character so far removed from her usual Hunger Games image. Her co-star Javier Bardem is also a stroke of genius casting – both relaxed while also making you’re skin crawl, he’s so watchable that I can’t imagine anyone else in the role. Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, while their screen time is limited, also make a stellar impression, with particular mention going to Pfeiffer who manages to steal several scenes from under Lawrence’s nose.
So yes, on a basically technical level the movie is very strong. But that’s not what makes this film so conflicting. Its more the fact that this movie is raw, disturbing, pretentious, absurd, confronting and extremely visceral all at once. The film starts off as a compelling and unsettling thriller that deals with the relationships of men and women, but steadily ramps up to something entirely different. Aronofsky’s ambitions reach up to the stratosphere – there is so much subtext crammed into this movie that its absurd how many interpretations of this film are going to exist. To some it could be about climate change, to others an interpretation of Genesis, to many more it could be a commentary on the slighted role of women in society and to everyone else it could be none of those things. And they could all be correct at the same time.
The one thing I can say about the movie, which is going to deeply divide audiences, is that it is excessive. Everything, from the subtext to the imagery to the raw visceral power of the film, is magnified to an absurd and deeply unpleasant level. It feels like Mother! is trying to say too many things at once to the point that I have no idea what audiences are going to take away from the experience. But one thing that I’m certain will happen – people are not going to forget this movie. This is going to be marked down as the most controversial films of the year and will forever be known as ‘that movie where the [SPOILER] happens‘. And as much as this movie is extreme, it definitely succeeded in that respect.
Mother! may be one of the best movies of the year, but even thinking that makes me feel unpleasant. It does exactly what great art should – elicit a strong, powerful response – but the way it achieves that response is visceral and gripping at the best of times, and pretentious and excessive at the worst. But one thing’s for sure – no one is going to be forgetting their Mother! any time soon.
General Audiences: Burn it
Film Buffs: Recommended