What the hell is wrong with this film? It’s an increasingly fantastic and bizarre thriller that will just not work for many.
However, the style of the film provokes this question on a more earnest level as rising unease culminates in strange, violent and abstract sequences. This has a tremendous destabilising effect and while it might push its own boundaries passed credulity, the ambition of the director is a redoubtable and constant driving force.
As characters are utterly unnamed, we’ll simply use the cast for exposition. Jennifer Lawrence has moved into a large, beautifully isolated old house which she is renovating. Meanwhile her poet partner Javier Bardem is struggling with writer’s block but nonetheless seems to be a happy part of this idyll. He does, or doesn’t do, his important work while Lawrence supports him by fixing the house and doing all the domestic duties. Gradually, cracks appear. Bardem innocuously ignores her and gives the odd disconcerting remark. To her, from whom the viewpoint of the film is firmly centred – point-of-view shots, over the shoulder, or her as part of her surroundings are the only three cinematic perspectives – these start to slowly snowball. The real schisms begin when Ed Harris appears on their doorstep and Bardem says he can stay with them, without even consulting Lawrence.
These small points are all important cues that give the film such momentum later in the piece. Aronofsky is meticulous, writing as well as directing and having the actors workshopping the script months before shooting; the dialogue fits like gloves. In the ‘making of’ in the extras this extends to set design, building and carefully choreographed blocking for both actors and cinematographers.
The opening scene of a scorched figure in fire only makes sense in the fullness of the time as does Bardem’s sanctified glass object kept in his study. Both seem aimless but contribute to the surprising cyclical nature of the narrative where it ends where we start. Similarly to Interstellar, you think ‘what?’, then realise the logic is fine, and then brilliant, within the limits of the worlds they create.
As the story progresses, allegories suggest themselves; Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel or even God, Jesus and Mary Magdalene. These both work because the action takes on an epic scale as the solitude of their house is invaded with horrifying consequences. Space makes way for surging claustrophobia. This leads to the question of what individuals might take away from this. A whole range is available from surreal masterpiece to wonky thriller. All these and everything in-between are reasonable. The first hour is a sturdy potboiler and the final fifteen minutes either tie it together beautifully or are violent, abstract disjointed nonsense. As a home entertainment review it’s possible to see how it has polarised fans and critics.
This is an eighteen rated movie. It is taken from a threshold 12A (kids these days can take a bit of horror) to the upper limit with a scene of cannibalism which is all kinds of queasy. I took this as metaphor for Jesus’ sacrifice to a destruction-prone humanity (I know, get me). With this interpretation it’s a powerful way of portraying it, but in a film which otherwise holds its own in fantasy near the end, it’s frankly horrible. On a differently serious matter, Aronofsky’s need to shove the camera into Lawrence’s cleavage and use excessive cosmetics that make her look like the boy from the animated Christmas classic The Snowman on the posters/cover marketing, is another worry. Both are disturbing excesses. Lawrence’s strong feminist personality suggests it was probably agreed to be a valid artistic decision, but it won’t be for everyone. Their previous relationship adds another level of awkwardness to this and possibly the camera’s fixation on her as a whole, the more you think about it.
Mother! was always going to divide opinion. As a horror/thriller it’s not that original, except maybe for some of the cinematography when you see the set and the skill of the camerawork. It is the increasingly surreal abstraction of the final third of the film and its symbolic and cyclical flourish that sets it apart. Above all, it needs a commanding and nuanced performance from Jennifer Lawrence for this film to be as creditable as it is. Add to this remarkable attention to detail in all areas from Aronofsky and perhaps for some of the more unsavoury moments invention was the mother of necessity.
Mother! is available on Digital Download and on BluRay/DVD from January 22nd