Plain, Simple Tom reviews . . . “Mother!” (2017)

Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! is about a married couple (Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem) who work to rebuild their house, after it was burned down in a fire, and to possibly start a family. But when the husband, a famous poet, invites a doctor and his wife (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) to stay, the house is soon swarming with uninvited, destructive guests, devout fans of the writer’s work, and as “Mother” is overwhelmed by the interlopers, she also notices unexplained things happening to the house as chaos soon ensues and she slowly starts losing her mind.

Mother! is a mysterious film and regarding what it’s actually about, I’d say, with some hesitation, that I think that I understood it but I realise that the real meaning may very well have flown over my head and there could very well be multiple interpretations. Overall though, I’d say that I understood the gist of what was going on and the ending kinda sorta made sense but this is a film that requires some serious pondering and head-scratching as there are no easy answers and, much like Aronofsky’s The Fountain (which was unnecessarily convoluted), it’s a film that requires some deciphering.

There are plenty of initial parallels with Rosemary’s Baby, which is what I’m guessing that Aronofsky was going for, given a specific one of Mother!‘s posters; we have a childless couple, one of them a struggling artist type, they attempt to eventually start a family in a new home but they (she, in particular) find their lives disrupted by an intrusive, interfering couple and there’s a certain expectation that certain parties are in cahoots, planning to use the female lead for some nefarious purpose. It teasingly starts off that way, making us believe that it’ll be a very similar story but it eventually subverts this and goes off in its own direction. It’s also reminiscent of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, since that too involves a simple situation derailed by wild, extreme, outrageous events.

In terms of messed up-edness, which is what word of mouth would have you believe it would be full of, Mother! is certainly anarchic and disturbing but not in a Requiem for a Dream way; I don’t think that this film will haunt or psychologically damage you like that film probably did, but it still eventually gets manic enough to provide an unsettling, visceral experience that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled. When things truly kick off in the final act, there’s shocking, unexpected violence as well as a certain amount of “body horror” and some very strong language, so Mother! more than earns its 18 rating as it is unmistakably bold, brutal and uncompromising in its shock factor.

It takes a certain amount of time to cross over into that Aronofsky style brand of delirium and when the apocalyptic final act arrives, it definitely shakes things up and hits the ground running with an utterly nightmarish, seemingly inescapable ordeal but it is perhaps laid on a bit too thick and all the constant smashing, crashing, shouting and screaming may very well leave your ears ringing (it certainly did for me) and you’ll probably just be willing it all to end soon, providing some much needed answers. Don’t get me wrong, those scenes are incredibly uncomfortable (in a good way!) and truly insane, but it does wear a bit thin after a while and the story slightly loses its focus, relying on shock value rather than mystery, as it was in the slower-paced first half.

There are plenty of religious themes/imagery in the film as Javier Bardem’s character becomes a revered, Messiah type figure, drawing in a sea of followers who worship him, set up shrines, desperately take possessions to remind them of him and who eventually take up arms in veritable Holy War, misguidedly lashing out with extremely shocking and uncomfortable violence. In addition, none of the characters have names, they’re instead given titles like “Good Samaritan”, “Executioner”, “Zealot”, “Defiler” and, in Javier Bardem’s case, “Him”. Note the capital H. There are plenty of other religious references that I’ve since come to learn of but overall, Aronofsky possibly goes a little overboard with it all and when you get right down to it, the religious elements don’t really have too much relevance to the central story, though it never gets preachy, pretentious or insufferable at all.

A constantly barefoot Jennifer Lawrence throws herself into the role admirably, doing remarkably bold things (especially towards the end) that we’ve never seen from her before; it is very easy to side with her as she finds her home and her very life being mercilessly destroyed by invaders and slowly over the course of the film, she slowly unravels as she is made to lose her mind and to lash out against the horrific people and events. Lawrence draws a fine balance between being sweet and innocent and fierce and protective and as she goes on her hellish ordeal, she very effectively conveys her inner turmoil, often quite subtly at the beginning, and is overall a fine, commanding lead. As mentioned before, it’s something of a new side of her and its great to see her branch out into daring projects like this.

Elsewhere, Javier Bardem is appropriately mysterious, sometimes acting as the caring husband but who also appears to be hiding some hidden evil, possibly being in league with the intruders, up to something horrible; Bardem is a solid supporting player and is both charismatic and suave and also slightly sinister and unhinged. Ed Harris is good as the visiting doctor, an almost unrecognizable Domhnall Gleeson is admirably repulsive as a quarrelsome brother and the great Michelle Pfeiffer is truly detestable as the judgmental, invasive, hateful, über-bitch wife of the doctor, incurring boatloads of contempt from us, the audience, as she calmly places herself in the Mother’s life and slowly makes her life a misery. All in all, the whole cast are well up for it and embrace the craziness with aplomb and gusto.

Mother! is one heck of a curious film that will no doubt leave audiences speechless and wondering just what it is they’ve just seen. I’m aware that it’s a divisive film, some people seem to really despise it, but I would place myself in the positive camp. Really weirdly though, I wouldn’t even necessarily say that I liked it, probably because it’s so anarchic, crazy and odd, but I definitely didn’t hate it.

Oh, I’m so confused! That’s what this film does – it messes with your head! I’m sorry if I’ve confused you too.

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A curious, bold, shocking and uncompromising film with an intriguing mystery at its heart, although it doesn’t provide many easy answers and it often gets too serious with its religious imagery. Plus, it’s Jennifer Lawrence as you’ve never seen her before.

★ ★ ★ ★

4 comments

  1. Interesting review. It is nice to hear that Jennifer Lawrence is going out of her comfort zone, but being a partner of Aronofsky, can one do otherwise? It is clear that the film messes with one’s head, but does it messes too much and crosses all the boundaries? Unfortunately, I think I read somewhere the spoilers, I don’t know now whether the film will have as much impact on me. If it is as good and as depressingly horrifying as Requiem for A Dream, Aronofsky will get my vote.

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