In a biblically-charged masterpiece, hell hath no fury like a mother scorned.
With every new project he embarks upon, Darren Aronofsky must face the most Herculean of tasks. Which is to say, he must encounter the challenge of creating a film that is more visceral, more tempestuous, and more deviantly disturbing than its predecessors. Noah might have been a rare misstep in the Requiem for a Dream director’s back-catalogue but there can be few who will make it through to the final, devastating embers of mother! without experiencing some level of affecting and heart-shattering trauma. Heaven forbid that he should ever make another film.
The most exciting fibre of mother!’s continuously mutating genetic makeup is just how close the film comes to getting it all wrong. It is a thrillingly fine blade upon which Aronofsky dances. No boundary of taste, decency or decorum is left un-stretched to its absolute limit – indeed many will find lines crossed – but the surety of the auteur in his work is without question. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that mother!’s is a director brazenly realising exactly the vision he set out project. In a world of studio interference and yellow-belly’d executives, full marks to Paramount here in letting go, for what a vision this is.
A cinematic muse if ever there was one, Jennifer Lawrence is the sun to mother!’s Solar System. Lawrence is here the unnamed wife of Javier Bardem’s similarly unnamed husband, living in a Chateau in the middle of nowhere, surrounded only by a ring of forestry. He is a writer suffering from a bloc of inspiration, whilst she is a homemaker of artistic sensibility, having revived the building from the ashen ruins of an earlier, infernonic fire. Ill-ease dominates their relationship within the house but it is entirely subliminal until the separate arrivals of a man and his wife (Ed Harris and a fabulously snide Michelle Pfeiffer): ‘Your wife? Thought it was your daughter.’ Lawrence wants them out and is horrified as her husband repeatedly invites them to stay, twisting her natural resentment of the intrusion into a perception of paranoia: ‘You want me to send him away?’ It’s all very Polanski and knowingly so; note the film’s first and last spoken words.
As more and more ‘invade’ their paradisal haven, it becomes clearer and clearer – or, rather, murkier and murkier – that plot is both irrelevant and of the utmost importance to mother! Packed with metaphorical implication and bitingly astute to the world in which it has been made, Aronofsky’s major triumphs come not through script, hastily written in just five days, but through the cinematic mastery with which the film realised. So mighty is the claustrophobia, angst, and disquiet of the film that it is of little surprise that audience response has been polarised. Yet how wonderful to have such a film provoke so intense and widespread a public discourse.
mother! is instantaneously unsettling. No wide, establishing and reassuring shot comes in the opening third of the film, with Aronofsky’s lens maniacally focussed on Lawrence’s face. All the while, the seemingly endless nooks of the house creak and rattle with an almighty percussive gusto; silence is a rarity and the effect is nigh on intolerable. Contained within the building, and echoing the set up, tone and provocative ambiguity of Trey Edward Shults’ It Comes at Night, the enormity of its structure casts the intensely juxtaposing sensation of intimidating imprisonment. Whereas Natalie Portman presented her director with a femme fatale of disparate fragility, Lawrence has a natural countenance that is anything but and brings versatility, at once predatory and prey. And she just one in an outstanding cast; Bardem is excellent, Pfeiffer is electric.
That this beast of a film was conceived as its director worked on Noah is obvious by virtue of its themes but be cautious of over-reading and thematic excavation. Were all explained, what might be gained in clarity, would be lost in psychological power.