- Excellent direction and cinematography
- Wonderful, tense build-up to full-on, unique horror sequences
- Inspired use of biblical references and a fantastic allegorical tale – although all this becomes too much and a bit ridiculous towards the end
- Terrific performances from Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem
I often like to think of my cosy flat in North London where I live with my girlfriend as a place of peace and happiness. A ‘Fortress of Solitude,’ if you will; a paradise where I can relax and be myself without worrying about the annoying outside world. It’s this sort of bliss that Jennifer Lawrence’s character strives tirelessly towards in Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, mother!. Sadly, though, what she gets is the complete opposite. An OCD and manner-obsessed introvert’s nightmare quickly devolves into an absolute terror. Don’t be fooled – this is not an easy-going horror/ home-invasion movie. This is a beautifully-made, complex film rife with biblical references and a very strong, if slightly convoluted, message.
The opening sets up the whole film wonderfully. The image of a beautiful burning girl surrounded by fire, the sharp slashing sound of the exclamation mark on the title, followed by the contrast of a diamond being delicately placed on a shelf. This is followed by a house, apparently in ruin, magically coming back to life. We then meet our protagonist, mother (Jennifer Lawrence), searching the house for her husband (Javier Bardem). A loving, caring wife, Lawrence’s character does all she can for her ‘genius’ writer husband, currently struggling with writer’s block. Intent on creating a perfect, peaceful paradise for them both to live in, she does everything while her husband mopes around upset he can’t think of anything to write about. Still though, mother toils at her dream which is soon interrupted when a random man (Ed Harris), and soon his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), turn up on their doorstep, prompting Bardem’s character to invite them in and eventually allowing these absolute strangers to stay, despite Jennifer Lawrence’s mother feeling uncomfortable by their intrusive presence. Their guests’ manners are just the start of problems though, since soon more and more strangers start to appear, rudely making themselves at home and slowly destroying the paradise… But their presence inspires Bardem, allowing a masterpiece to come from his pen. Things get increasingly worse (and even more mad!) as more people turn up and the allegory of the film becomes clear as we try frantically to keep up.
The plot is rather difficult to discuss for a number of reasons; firstly, the plot itself isn’t as important to the film as the allegory, the way in which it is filmed and the message is conveys; secondly I really don’t want to give away because part of the joy in this film is to see the horror slowly unravel with no idea of what’s about to transpire; and lastly, the whole movie is pretty bonkers, it’s tough to explain in just a review. Still for what it is, it’s an enjoyable plot that gets its hooks into you after a slow, but effective build-up. The slow descent into a mad hell is steady and well-paced until the frantic, unrealistic end that distances us and just becomes ‘too much.’ While it may be at this point that the message becomes more clear and we’re aware of what we’re watching, it just goes too far (to the point of no return) that we’re distanced as an audience, struggling to empathise with Lawrence’s character in the way we did for the first two thirds of the film.
Despite sadly letting things go too wild towards the end, it’s a joy to watch visually, with Darren Aronofsky and his long-time cinematography collaborator Matthew Libatique on top of their game. Well-composed and full of meaning in each shot, the first half is delicate and precise with so much to read into any one shot. This is contrasted by the horrific scenes in the latter half, equally powerful, but more horror-inducing than beautiful. This contrast in cinematography excellent portrays the contrast between order and chaos, exacerbating the pain we so often feel for mother and understanding her growing paranoia.
As well-made as the film is, the strength at the heart of this film is in the performances, Jennifer Lawrence in particular, who once again proves that she can do anything she wants. Meek, mild and caring, careful not to offend any of the unwanted guests, Lawrence consistently oozes empathy and understanding from the audience; we share all her emotions and she makes these clear and potent. She makes the most of the few lines she has, but really capitalises on body language, most of the personality coming from watching her rather than listening to her. Javier Bardem is always excellent, a master at complex characters, and as cinema-goers we’re so used to seeing him as a villain. Here though, he’s not exactly a villain… Then again he’s not exactly not a villain either. Rather he expertly treads the boundary, never allowing us to know whether we should like him or not, whether we should trust him or not. His performances really escalates the usual paranoia Aronofsky squeezes from his films, and it’s all the better for him.
For many people, this just won’t be ‘their type of film.’ It’s not an easy film to watch and for some I’m sure it won’t be entertaining either. Personally I really enjoyed both watching it and thinking about it afterwards. But this isn’t for everyone – and this is something the film can pride itself on (like so many excellent films – 2001: A Space Odyssey for example). This however doesn’t mean it’s a flawless masterpiece; not by a long shot. For me there was only one issue, as I said earlier, and that is the ending. I’m all game for films being allegories and rife with symbolism – I think they’re great, unique and I’m a fan of a film that can be thought-provoking. It can go too far however, and I think mother! sadly slightly oversteps the boundary. About two thirds of the way through the film, it turns into more than just an allegory and becomes devoid of realism. It’s quite something to watch and is wonderfully shocking, but I feel it really loses the potency it has when it’s just an allegory and becomes too fantastical, distancing us as an audience and packing too much in there. Not to say that it’s a bad latter part at all, but the film loses the thread somewhat and it’s as if Aronofsky relaxes the care and talented craft displayed in the earlier parts of the movie.
All in all it’s a grand success for all involved, particularly for Aronosky as writer/ director and Lawrence and Bardem as stars. A powerful allegory with a strong message, it’s a well-written, gorgeously shot film with excellent performances and a steady, yet captivating pace and plot, unrelenting with its feeling of unease and paranoia. Its descent into pandemonium and horror is a joy to watch, but the metaphors and symbolism, whilst at first enjoyably thought-provoking, become tiresome as we move to the crazy ending where there is too much packed in and it distances us as an audience. Certainly a must-see for any Aronofsky fan!