Saturday, 23 December 2017

Review #1,283: 'Mother!' (2017)

Darren Aronofsky's Mother!, or mother! as it is often printed, has already generated more controversy than most movies can achieve in an entire lifetime. A fever-dream of chaos, violence and nightmarish imagery, Aronofsky's latest seems to provoke extreme reactions from both sides of the spectrum. After its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, the film received both a standing ovation and a chorus of boos. Whether you love it, hate it, or simply cannot make up your mind, Mother! will be successful at yanking a reaction out of you, be it repulsion, confusion or laughter. Yet the biggest shock is not the orgy of brutality at the climax or the religious undertones, but that a major studio would ever fund this at all. Paramount were apparently convinced when star Jennifer Lawrence signed on, but there is little here for fans of The Hunger Games, and not much more for those hoping for a straight-forward haunted house flick.

We open with a woman burning, before apparently jumping forward in time. The house in which the stranger met her demise has been repaired, and is currently being turned into a paradise by 'Mother' (Lawrence). She wants to shape the home into a place of tranquillity for her much older husband, 'Him' (Javier Bardem), an artistically-blocked famous poet who has failed to write any new material in over a year. Things seem peaceful, but something isn't quite right. The house is in the middle of nowhere, hidden away from civilisation, so Mother is shocked when a doctor - billed as 'Man' and played by Ed Harris - turns up at the door claiming to have mistook the house for a B & B. Mother wants to be left alone but Him seems eager for the company. It becomes clear than Man has no intention of leaving when his wife ('Woman', played by Michelle Pfeiffer) turns up at the door. She is obnoxious and rude, carrying a clanking glass and glazed eyes with her wherever she goes, and events start to spiral out of control when their bickering sons (played by Brian and Domhnall Gleeson) also show up.

Things seem to calm down when Mother becomes pregnant, and the couple withdraw into isolation once again. Fatherhood reawakens the artist in Him, and he soon has a new book published. But this only starts to attract more outsiders, which rapidly turns from a small crowd of book fans to a hoard of crazies, who start to systematically destroy the house. Think Gaspar Noe meets some of Ben Wheatley's more extreme works and you can start to grasp the tone of Mother!'s climax. It's a clusterfuck of unpleasantness and claustrophobia, like a house party crashed by Satan himself. Aronofsky makes sure that you're uncomfortable from the very get-go, with camerawork nearly always from point of view of Mother, or directly in her face. Classic horror elements also establish feelings of unease, such as a bleeding floorboard, a dingy basement with a bricked-up wall, and a strange instrument heard through the walls with the appearance of a beating heart. Aronofsky possibly thinks he setting the audience up for the nastiness about to be inflicted on the heroine, but nothing could have really prepared me for the last 40 minutes.

Mother! is one of only a few films I've really had to wrestle with. As I was watching, I felt disgusted, patronised, and in need of a good wash, and the end credits made me feel like I was exhaling for the very first time. As time passed, I could only admire the way in which Aronosky had forced such a physical reaction out of me, and the many ways in which the film can be read. Essentially it's a story of motherhood and creating a home for your family, but it also works as a religious parable, with certain characters clearly stand-ins for figures from the Bible. Most of all, this is an artist's reaction to terrifying reality of our times, with nuclear war, global warming and terrorism a constant threat, and dangerous, unpredictable leaders seated at the head of some of the most powerful countries in the world. The director himself stated that he woke up one morning and spilled out Mother! over the course of four days, and the film certainly reflects Aronofsky's urgent, scribbled approach. It's hard to recommend Mother!, but I would urge anybody to see it at least once. You may find it to be preposterous nonsense or a cathartic masterpiece, and you'd be right either way.

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Brian Gleeson, Domhnall Gleeson, Kristen Wiig
Country: USA

Rating: ****

Tom Gillespie

Mother! (2017) on IMDb

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