Film review: “mother!”

“mother!” (2017)



Running Time: 121 minutes

Written and Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Featuring:  Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer

Woman:You give, and you give, and you give. It’s just never enough.”

It has been far too long since Darren Aronofsky has graced us with a film, the last being the Russell Crowe starrer “Noah” (2014) which was monumentally underrated as well as a surprise left turn after the Oscar nominated masterpiece “Black Swan” (2010). Even this new film “mother!” (2017) was a surprise for audiences as well as the filmmaker who was working on writing a children’s film (if you can believe that after watching this) but was unable to crack it, so wrote “mother!” in a matter of days – some would say that it shows, with a paper thin plot, but a narrative (Aronofsky’s specialty in my mind) that really does show how gifted a filmmaker he has become.

“mother!” is something of an enigma, it covers many genres within its almost two hour running time, but no matter what genre you try to define it by there is absolutely no doubt that it is one hundred percent original – it also illustrates what a director can accomplish with a willing cast and crew. This is a film that begs to be rewatched as the narrative is really something to behold. This film is really short on plot, something that all original Darren Aronofsky films have in common, while being long on themes, visual trickery and layered meanings, you will be left to sort these out some time after the end credits roll. I am going to say right up front that I loved this film from the house coming alive in the opening to the incredible performances that really do show Aronofsky cares as much about his actors as he does about the look and feel of his films – I would not be surprised if this was going to feature heavily in next years Academy Awards.

As I have said the plot of “mother!” is scarce but the official synopsis is thus: A young woman’s (Jennifer Lawrence) tranquil life with her husband (Javier Bardem) at their remote country home is challenged by an unnamed couple (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) who arrive and lodge with them. To say that this just scratches the surface of what actually happens in the film is an understatement, but the narrative moves in a seemingly straight line but it is obvious there are some pretty heavy fantastical sequences particulacy in the third act – it really does go bonkers, just strap in and enjoy the ride.

There are three elements that are almost immediately apparent after we see the woman played by Jennifer Lawrence get out of bed at the outset of “mother!”, the photography/cinematography has been designed with the story in mind, there is a noticeable fuzz or grain that gives the feeling of almost blurriness that leads to the confusion of the main character which in itself is vital for this story. Longtime Aronofsky collaborator cinematographer Matthew Libatique knows just what is required, which leads me to another element, which again is visual. That is that the shots of Jennifer Lawrence are almost always close ups of her head, when we follow her we are almost always just seeing the neck upwards which brings me to the fact that this film is told from her point of view, there are really only two times when it is not and they are brief – it leads to a tour de force performance by Lawrence, not entirely dissimilar from Natalie Portman’s performance in “Black swan”. This film is so dense with so much going on that you are still thinking about what you have seen even when we move on to the next scene, there is much more to say but I don’t want to spoil this great film too much.

It has to be said that the music by Jóhann Jóhannsson is suitably atmospheric as it usually is, and it is great to see him working outside of his usual collaborator Denis Villeneuve on something that he has probably never seem before a true surrealist nightmare of biblical proportions and he is up to the challenge making it seem easy and not a task.

To be honest I am not sure where to begin with what the film is actually about, but it is definitely metaphorical as well as allegorical on a number of issues that have had an effect on the director as well as possibly his cast. It is extremely dense and layered, which means there are very different ways of reading what is going on at any given time. One example is that the film on one level, is about marriage and the domestic nature of what that means, when one person seems to be the only one trying to make a real relationship work. I also could not help but think that the directors own relationship with Rachel Weisz was also a contributing factor to many of the aspects of the narrative such as someone who has a partner who is more successful and is being pulled away by external factors – the solution is to sometimes have a child but then they too are often under public scrutiny. Does this sound familiar? Try comparing this section of “mother!” to any celebrity marriage, you start to see similarities, there is the cult of personality as well as people who start to believe the hype that surrounds them – almost any reality star can share that story. Whether or not this film is about a hell that is run by someone who requires the adoration of the masses like some devil is open to consideration as well – to make something he perhaps requires a muse whose energy he uses up and spits out, in this case it is just a never ending cycle, a man who uses women over and over again – this last analysis almost sounds political in nature as well.

As you come to expect from any, in fact all of Aronofsky’s films, is that the people who want to work with him are all of the highest caliber. This is no more so than here where we have Oscar winners Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem playing husband and wife, both giving, what I think are career best performances in roles that could have been cyphers or tropes that could exist in other films that have touches of surrealism. In early supporting roles there are the great Oscar nominated actors Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, playing husband and wife as well. Both of these veterans bring something very different to their roles, Harris plays a willing victim while it is Pfeiffer who really has a role to sink her teeth into, and has some menace to play with, baring her teeth at Lawrence in attempting to undermine her position as the matriarch of the household.

Darren Aronofsky has created something really special with this film but it requires a leap of faith if you are going to really enjoy it. It has madness, horror, hunour and violence that hover around the somewhat unreliable central figure. This is the work of someone who has the buy in from his producers, actors and crew in creating one of the most unique Hollywood films ever. “mother!” is the bastard child of David Lynch and Ken Russell with a touch of Werner Herzog for good value. It is a film that is open to interpretation and in fact seems to welcome it, you can imprint many meanings onto it, from marriage to politics to celebrity to Hollywood itself – I absolutely loved it, just don’t try and work out what’s going on in any traditional sense.

“mother!” is out now only in cinemas.

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