Running time 2hr 1min
AUDIENCES will no doubt puzzle over Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! for years to come. Its profound sense of the uncanny and the monstrous has drawn comparisons with Luis Buñuel’s vicious satires on middle-class respectability, but this is a film that one pigeonholes at one’s own peril – to snicker at its moments of absurdity (it affords us little in the way of comic relief) is to laugh in the face of an apocalyptic storm, the likes of which Hollywood is rarely brave enough (or mad enough) to evoke. It may well be a grotesque commentary on parental anxiety, or a comedy of manners disguised as a blistering art-horror flick, or an anti-Christian polemic, or even a perverse parable on the European refugee crisis… but it’s most definitely the natural end-point of Aronofsky’s thematic career to date, taking the gothic body horror of Black Swan and Pi to its staggering, hyper-morbid conclusions, and all culminating in a shocking, Rosemary’s Baby-esque atrocity that you’ll never quite forget.
I could summarise the plot, but to do so would only lay bare the movie’s narrative slenderness – this is very much a sensory experience, forfeiting any explicit pretensions to a philosophy or a storyline halfway through. Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem (‘Mother’ and ‘He’, respectively) play a married couple at a crossroads, the latter a struggling writer and the former an ailing bag of nerves, juggling mundane household commitments with the demands of an older, highly-strung husband. They live in a dilapidated mansion that ominously transcends time (Mother becomes visibly pregnant over the course of a few hours) and space (people appear and disappear without warning); only the intensity of the two’s performances, coupled with the ambiguity of the screenplay, holds the scattershot patchwork together.
The arrival of ‘Man’ (Ed Harris) and ‘Woman’ (Michelle Pfeiffer), a pair of “crazy fans” curiously attached to Him, finally shatters any illusion of domestic harmony, as heirlooms are smashed, drinks are imbibed, and an inexplicable mob descend upon the pair’s slice of grey idyll.
The photography, reminiscent of the Oscar-winning Holocaust drama Son Of Saul, offers us a window into Mother’s private hell – we’re staring directly at Lawrence’s face for half of the film, but, far from drawing us into her bizarre and terrible
predicament, the effect is an ever-mounting sense of bewilderment and cabin fever. This is the Hunger Games star’s
most extreme effort to date, one which saw her dislocate a rib on-set, and it’s easily as good as any among the more relatively dialogue-driven acts on show – never mind the screaming, her every mystifying wince and frown positively curdles the blood. Bardem’s troubled artist is no stranger to the big screen, but the actor’s demented rendition brings a freshness to this ancient archetype; as the end draws nigh, He betrays more than a hint of Anton Chigurh…
But, my lord, is this a tough watch. Mother! is possibly the most controversial mainstream film of the last decade, its depraved final act featuring an orgiastic burst of appalling images that will torment even the most seasoned gorehounds; the barbed eeriness of the first section, by contrast, does little to prepare you for the ride (providing, of course, it’s not simply there to polarise and disarm viewers). It’s hard to see how Aronofsky can now ever hope to top this visceral, unspeakably weird vision. On some level, we hope he never does.