Director: Darren Aronofsky
Screenwriter: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Brian Gleeson, Domhnall Gleeson
Darren Aronofsky, the mind behind some of this century’s most challenging films such as Requiem for a Dream (2000) and Black Swan (2010), is back with possibly his most challenging film to date. More so than The Fountain (2006) and Noah (2014), the Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem starring thriller Mother! (2017) is dividing audiences, with the majority of paying viewers either loving or hating the film. The only thing that’s for sure, is that everyone’s talking about it…
— WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD —
Mother! is another step into the rabbit hole that is Aronofsky’s exploration of feelings on screen, with every shot and piece of plot development being pierced by some of the most aggressive use of sound ever explored on such a mainstream stage. Paranoia is the film’s central theme at its most basic level, and the development of sound works continuously to insert you into a similar state, ramping up tension and ultimately delivering such a prolonged slog of an emotional journey that even at its best, Mother! can be considered laborious. This is a film that, much like The Revenant (2016), grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go for what is two hours of continuously developing frustrations and anger, with little factual evidence from which to view the story from a comfortable perspective. Never does the director allow for a moment of polite contemplation, nor does he ever offer any sense of land beneath your feet, instead forcing a sadistic plunge into the unknown followed by the presentation of well calculated piece of challenging information after well calculated piece of challenging information. In doing so, the film naturally explores a multitude of universal themes surrounding the feeling of paranoia, yet it also plunges into much more personal territory regarding the filmmaker himself, focusing particularly on his thoughts on the planet and human kind’s interaction with it. Mother! is presented as a story of growing paranoia from Jennifer Lawrence’s lead character brought on by the ongoing dismissal of her wants and needs by her poet partner (Bardem), and the destructive situations that arise from his bad decisions. Yet, as seems to be so often the case with Aronofsky’s features, Mother! offers a metaphorical story much more in keeping with the action on screen than the simplicity of the story’s central arc, exploring the filmmaker’s perception of the relationship/s between human kind, God and most importantly Mother Earth.
Central to Mother! is an extraordinary, artistic, layered presentation of how God’s creation, humanity, and God’s loyalty to it, is so madly destructive to the planet on which we live. In the scenario created by Aronofsky, Bardem is God, his on-screen wife Lawrence is Mother Earth, their home is the planet which we inhabit, and the film’s other characters are representative of humanity, from Adam and Eve right through to the modern day. Though not immediately clear, this allegory comes to define Mother! for the art-house exploration of religion and existence that it is, though this is by no means the only way to read the film despite Aronofsky and his producers confirming the reading to be true. This is because the exploration of this concept naturally brings commentary on man’s relationship to woman and therefore offers a place for analysis regarding the patriarchy, abuse and objectivity, an element of the story Jennifer Lawrence has gone on record as being a motivator in her decision to join the film.
It’s a lot to take in, especially when the picture seems to rapidly accelerate towards a 10-minute-long explosion of set piece and cinematography-driven anxiety and menace that Aronofsky so fantastically delivers as a standout moment in cinema for this calendar year, but the screenwriter-director clearly wasn’t aiming to make a film that was easy to watch, nor was he trying to make his audience feel comfortable. This was supposed to be challenging, it was supposed to put you in the shoes of Earth itself – a planet on the brink of destruction. Artistically, Aronofsky has developed something close to a masterpiece, with multiple meanings to the story itself and every development within it. Visually, it’s an almost flawless film with only a few hokey CG moments to take away as being less than pristine, but the sound, direction choices and cinematography are excellently constructed pieces of artistic input, as are the performances.
Jennifer Lawrence provides possibly her most convincing performance of her career to date in the lead role, tapping into an innocence and grace that had previously not been fully explored by the actress on the big screen. Nuances of her performance are just as noteworthy as some of her more typically powerful acting scenes, though the real-life struggle of tearing her diaphragm in an emotional sequence in which her character gives birth is sure to get influential heads turning in her direction this awards season. Bardem was also impressive, as is typically the case, and Michelle Pfeiffer headlines the rest of the cast in terms of quality of performance, making the most of her limited screen time with a version of twisted and jaded that the actress has become somewhat synonymous with. Make no mistake however, Mother! is, at least from a performance standpoint, Jennifer Lawrence’s film.
It is the 27 year old actress who can hold out most hope for coming out of this project with the highest amount of respect in the short term, and even perhaps an Actress nominee at some of the major awards shows should the voting go her way, but the reality is that Mother! has bombed at the box office and with audiences as a whole, with the vast majority instantly rejecting the film as self-concerned nonsense filled with pretentious and problematic work in all respects, and therefore it is incredibly unlikely that we’re going to hear much regarding this film’s sensational use of sound, clever cinematography and extraordinary premise in the weeks and months ahead – especially going into awards season. This is unfortunate as there is little to distinguish Mother! from some of the best of Aronofsky’s challenging yet beautifully orchestrated work, and individual elements of the film are no less than spectacular. Perhaps this is one of those titles that’ll come to be universally appreciated in time?