Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer
Release Date: 15 September
mother! is a gauntlet, director Darren Aronofsky practically daring you to keep watching:
“Oh, you think Jennifer Lawrence has suffered enough, do you?” he laughs, before subjecting her to some new horror. Fans of the actress and/or human decency may want to look away now.
mother! (that’s how it’s stylised on the poster and probably what you’ll want to shout after seeing this, perhaps tacking on an expletive at the end) is Aronofsky’s first film since 2014’s underrated Noah and his first with current partner Jennifer Lawrence.
Lawrence and co-star Javier Bardem play an unnamed young couple living in a seemingly gigantic, endless house in the countryside. Bardem, a famous writer of some sort, has inherited the house from his family. He’s decided to move in while he works on his new piece of writing. We’re immediately given a taste of things to come as we see a close-up of Lawrence engulfed in flame before Bardem places a mysterious crystal on a stand. Bafflingly, so much emphasis is given to these two scenes that if you think you’ve already figured out what’s going to happen, you probably have. As with many things in life, once mysterious crystals gets involved, you know strange things are about to happen.
And happen they do! No sooner have our young couple settled into their mundane daily routine (him writing, her cleaning up the house, the definition of a fixer-upper) when a stranger calls in the form of Ed Harris. Thinking the couple’s home is some form of guest-house, Harris is invited to stay for the night by Bardem, to the disgust of Lawrence. This sets up the dynamic that runs throughout the rest of the film, where Lawrence’s opinions and fears are constantly brushed aside by her increasingly self-centred husband.
Anyone expecting the typical “upper-class couple with relationship issues” drama or “meditation on fame” would do well to remember our mysterious crystal from the first scene. Just as Lawrence is getting used to their unwelcome guest, his wife arrives (Michelle Pfeiffer), looking to stay. Harris and Pfeiffer perfectly embody the sleazy older couple, each with their own vices (smoking and promiscuity, respectively) that Lawrence literally tries to hide within the seams of the house.
When the older couples’ sons arrive in the form of the real-life brothers Domhnall and Brian Gleeson, everything starts to go totally off the rails. Our confusion as to what’s happening is mirrored in Jennifer Lawrence’s acting as she becomes more and more agitated and when she falls pregnant around the film’s halfway mark, we genuinely begin to fear for her safety as the house becomes more and more full.
mother! is steeped throughout with Christian symbolism and plays as an interesting companion piece to Aranofsky’s own The Fountain. Where that film viewed love as an all-conquering, healing force, mother! feels like its evil sibling, the Cain to Fountain’s Abel, portraying obsession (both in the self and the ideal) as a consuming, destroying force. How much “enjoyment” you’ll get out of mother! will depend greatly on how much suffering you can bear to see Jennifer Lawrence be subjected to.
Toward the end, Aranofsky serves up some extremely disturbing imagery that totally justifies the 18s cert mother! has received. So while mother! may not necessarily be an enjoyable film, as an experience it does manage to serve up moments of utter dread and, in that, it could be considered a success.
If anything lets it down, it’s that it almost doesn’t go far ENOUGH in terms of allowing its visual style to match its surrealist and religious themes. The majority of the film is shot in handheld close-up, giving it an extremely intimate feel but you can’t help yearn for some of the more excessive visuals of Noah or The Fountain. This and the aforementioned opening that gives probably a bit too much away keep mother! from reaching the heights of Aranofsky’s other films.
Although mother! is definitely worth seeking out and will undoubtedly prove to be divisive with audiences, it might leave Aranofsky fans wanting just that bit more.
Written by Julian Callan