‘Mother!’ is the latest film written and directed by American auteur Darren Aronofsky, director of ‘Black Swan’ and ‘Requiem for a Dream’, about a couple whose relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home. At least, this is what the official synopsis and trailers would like you to believe; the tagline ‘seeing is believing’ has rarely been more apt.
‘Mother!’ is part metaphysical thriller, part psychological drama, sometimes black comedy and perhaps a little surreal mystery. In all honesty, it defies description. The film takes place entirely in one beautifully quaint, grand house. Burned down at an unspecified point in history, Jennifer Lawrence’s character, ‘Mother’, has painstakingly restored the abode in which she resides with Javier Bardem’s character, ‘Him’, whilst he sits in his study suffering from chronic writer’s block. When the ‘Man’ and ‘Woman’ (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) turn up univited, the paradise Mother is building begins to unwind.
Jennifer Lawrence as Mother is transcendent. Undoubtedly a career-best performance, ‘Mother!’ is her film. Rarely panning out beyond 12 inches from her face when she is the focus, and when she isn’t, giving only her viewpoint of the world around her, the camera is her. Her sanity and reality is consistently brought into question, and so too is the viewer’s. In one scene, she questions Him about the supposed stranger, “he has pictures of you in his luggage”. Instead of attempting to explain this obvious non-coincidence, he simply retorts “what were you doing in their luggage?”. There is a lot to be said for instinct, and it is natural for a person to investigate when something feels wrong or out of place; such as a man turning up at your door claiming ‘they’ told him the house was a B&B. Him is elusive in his non-answer, twisting the narrative, and manipulating Mother to feel she is in the wrong.
She personifies introversion and anxiety – unable to leave the house she has built and unwilling to accept visitors. As hers are the eyes through which we see events unfold, her agitation and emotional strain begin to fuse with our own, making for an increasingly intense and claustrophobic experience. This is only heightened by the bold lack of scoring, which becomes deafening, as mundane, everyday noises scream in the background. When she meets the Woman, the Woman observes “you really love him, god help you.” Her love for Him is toxic. She does everything for Him, to protect Him, to provide for Him, to support Him, without question, whilst getting very little back in return. She gives Him her all, free from expectation; the purest of love.
Javier Bardem is perfect in the role of Him. He is, of course, considerably older than Mother, though this is acknowledged. He speaks calmly, with a cool smile, and calls Mother his goddess. He loses his ‘cool’ once – when the mysterious glowing crystal he keeps in his study is smashed beyond repair by the Man and Woman. It will only become clear in the final scenes why he is so creepily possessive over this trinket. In the first half of the film, he is cold and distant, consumed by his lack of life, lack of inspiration. After one passionate encounter with Mother, he is full of life and inspiration, yet still distant, consumed with completing his finest work. He is not an obvious villain, but a man selfishly obsessed with his poetry, his legacy.
The Man and Woman, as played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, are deliciously devilish. He, a dying old man looking to meet his idol; her, a cynical woman who cannot resist prying into the lives of the protagonists. The Woman has some of the keenest insights throughout. When a tragedy is bestowed upon her, she talks of being a mother herself – “you give and you give and you give, its just never enough”. ‘Its just never enough’ is a recurring theme throughout ‘Mother!’.
The Man and the Woman are not the only visitors. As events unfold, more visitors arrive to worship Him; and more and more and more. The worship is poisonous; they are infatuated with Him, and treat Him like a deity, and Him accepts this worship as though it validates his existence. When Mother questions “who are they?”, he answers excitedly “they’ve come here to see me.” His ego is ultimately more important than the safety and mental well-being of his ‘goddess’. When that moment (believe me, you’ll know it when you see it) occurs, he is still willing to forgive his followers, rather than chastise them for their abhorrent, sickening, shocking behaviour.
If you hadn’t already noticed, no one in ‘Mother!’ is named. This only adds to the prophetic feeling, like ‘Mother!’ is an allegory for society, for religion, for pathologically abusive relationships, for the current political climate, for war, for everything that is wrong with the world. All showcased in one house, in one woman’s nightmare.
One of the several trailers claims “you will never forget where you were the first time you saw Mother!” I definitely won’t. Never, and I mean never, has a film had me so on the edge of my seat, mouth agape, eyes unblinking, in the final act. It is a slow burn, that at it’s crescendo, will tear you apart. ‘Mother!’ may be the best film I won’t ever revisit; a dizzying experience that I will recommend to all at least once.
Sasha’s rating: 8 out of 10
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer