Review by Garth Jones
Film | mother! | MA
This divisive new film from director Darren Aronofsky – who last graced our screens in 2014 with the reimagined biblical epic Noah – is a startling meditation on creation.
It is subjective as to whether Aronofsky intended the ‘c’ in ‘creation’ to be upper or lower case – the viewer will potentially make that decision during the long conversations which ensue in attempted reading of mother!
In a lowercase ‘c’ discussion of mother! writer/director Aronofsky’s narrative focuses on a detached, newlywed couple living in a remote farmhouse.
The wife, or Mother, played by Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) is considerably younger than her husband, the moody poet Him, played by Perdita Durango’s (AKA Dance With The Devil) Javier Bardem.
Mother spends her days renovating the monolithic house and, essentially, attending to Him’s nurture; mothering. Him, moody and terse, is experiencing writer’s block, sulkily locked in his study immersed in sullen funk. His behaviour is, at minimum, aloof to his younger spouse and – at worst – contemptuous and dismissive.
There is an air of banal dysfunction and unease permeating mother!’s setup, punctuated by flashes of surrealism and loaded iconography. Initially, Aronofsky’s film in many ways evokes the recent spate of home invasion horror films popular with B-movie fans.
Then, one evening, Man (Ed Harris) arrives.
At this point in mother!, it would be fair to say the viewer’s proverbial thematic resonance mileage may vary.
A reading of the film as an increasingly hysterical, anxiety-infused absurdist dysfunctional marriage farce – a la Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – is feasible.
To those with a passing familiarity with the Old and New Testaments, however, biblical allegory quickly intertwines with the film’s tense, off-kilter domestic scenes.
This is where the capital ‘C’ reading entrenches itself.
In quick succession, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives, with their two violent sons hot on Man and Woman’s heels…
All the while, Aronofsky, an atheist director who often tackles spiritual concepts – see The Fountain for an even more cosmic take – leavens mother! with an air of inscrutability.
Are the events unfolding in film actually of a relatively prosaic nature? Are we witnessing Him’s writer’s block break as he scripts a third person, misogynist, harrowing domestic horror fable? Or are the events we bear witness to an accelerated, blistering test of endurance charting Creation through the Garden of Eden and on through to the Apocalypse itself?
In any of the above readings, Aronofsky’s film lends itself to a scathing critique of the single minded – generally masculine – creative id.
Bardem’s Him, whether frustrated poet, emotionally detached husband or demented celebrity egomaniac (or all three) is contemptuous and unfeeling towards the increasingly traumatised Mother. He is in thrall to the power of his status as his creation – or Creation – unfolds.
Lawrence’s performance as Mother is a disruptive, counterintuitive feint for an actress whose career has been founded on playing women with complete agency. The film is shot entirely from her perspective, the camera studying the planes of Lawrence’s increasingly frantic, panicked Mother dispassionately.
In many ways, it is a (small ‘m’) miracle mother! was made.
Notwithstanding Lawrence’s critical and commercial heft, and Aronofsky’s auteur status, the film is the very definition of ‘unconventional Hollywood fare’ (as evidenced by its initial box office reception).
The marketing campaign for mother! features two portraits of its leads.
In one, a painting by artist James Jean, a winsome Mother – beatific, framed by lush vegetation – offers her bloody heart to the viewer.
In the other, Him – seated, sinister and engulfed in flame – toys with an oddly shaped, totemic crystal, seemingly humming with ethereal power.
Regardless of your interpretive predispositions, this film’s myriad readings are tantalising, exciting reasons to embrace mother!.