Director: Darren Aronofsky
Paramount Pictures/Protozoa Pictures
Making Black Swan look like a perfect rom-com for any date-night, Darren Aronofsky here sets up a taut, psychological horror that you at first think might play out along the lines of Don’t Look Now or – as is more oft-referenced – Rosemary’s Baby. There’s touches of Polanski for sure, and David Cronenberg too – but Mother! is really unlike any “horror” or “thriller” film – its closest comparison, beyond various vestiges from other Aronofsky films (an existential horror seemingly made real – as in Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream, the price and toll of art as in The Wrestler, the pursuit of excellence and the arrival of madness as in Pi - even the cinematography of The Fountain’s utopia/dystopia dilemma) is Hal Hartley’s strangely wonderful meditation on creativity, Henry Fool.
But what it is – and it’s hard to actually talk about the film for it deserves no spoilers – is a tour-de-force, virtuoso performances framed by (and in) virtuoso filmmaking.
Jennifer Lawrence is “Mother” – she is the wife of Javier Bardem’s character (credited only as “Him”). He is a famous poet struggling with writer’s block. His wife has restored the house, she cooks, cleans, dotes; she defers. Her life is one of service, of gratitude too, she is deeply in love and her ‘work’ is in a supporting role; the metaphor is trowelled on thick that she is a home-maker; quite literally making the home.
But then a visit from a “Man” (Ed Harris – hacking away, and all but dressed as Robert Duvall). His wife (“Woman”) later arrives; Michelle Pfeiffer is glorious in those role, cruel, entitled and unaware, a soak, a nuisance. Harris’ character is a super-fan of the bard Bardem plays. “Mother” is expected to just feed more mouths and clean and dote as the ego-stoked but still creatively blocked poet basks.
From there the weight of the film rests on Lawrence. She carries us with her – the camera clinging close and creating a claustrophobia. We walk with her through suspenseful frames of foreshadowing and menace. More people arrive. It’s never quite clear what the pay-off will be. And then it arrives. And when it hits it is Aronofsky doubling-down. Doubling-down in the way that Cronenberg and Polanski and Lars von Trier have done. But this goes deeper. Darker.
It’s a fever-dream that never lets up. And as the spiral kicks in, and then coils around itself and winds further down we are dragged along for an exhausting ride.
There’s shock upon shock as new metaphorical layers are added, as new frustrations circle.
It is brutal and beautiful and Lawrence – as muse for and of Aronofsky, as lead performer in this film – is a standout. She is capable of so much, each film showing another side. She has never been better than here. Bardem – well, we know his menace, his intensity, his stare, the brood, the suggestion of baggage. He’s wonderful here too. As is Ed Harris, Pfeiffer and a late to the party Kristin Wiig.
Mother! is horrendous and wonderful – and that it is quite clearly not for everyone only makes it better.
A powerhouse and powerful state. I was in shock after. The best kind of shock; the best kind of reaction to a film. I’ve thought about it for days. It haunts in the very best way. It’s a must-see. I would argue that even if you hate it you’ll agree in at least some way that it was still worth getting through.