Following on from his disappointing take on the famous biblical tale of Noah, Darren Aronofsky returns to the silver screen with a title far more in line with his distinctive sensibilities as a storyteller, presenting the indelible, ineffably discomforting thriller mother!. A provocative, evocative feature that will shock, compel and confuse viewers in equal measure. Perhaps it’s another biblical inspired tale, or a study on the creative process of a stunted writer. There’s so many ways to interpret this one – just good luck having a go at deciphering it.
Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem play an unnamed, married couple settling in to their new abode. While the former is busy doing the place up and making it feel more homely, the latter spends his days striving for inspiration, as a successful poet currently suffering from writer’s block. Until one evening when there’s a knock at the door – where a doctor (Ed Harris) awaits, having mistaken the building for a bed and breakfast. They let him stay the night regardless, despite her reluctance, and the following morning the doctor’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) turns up, only for their two sons to eventually arrive. Suddenly this couple’s tranquil existence is threatened, as a full blown domestic unravels in their abode. While the poet is using the drama to help his creativity, his wife is far less impressed with the situation.
Mother! is an unbearably taut, disquieting piece of cinema, that is visceral and immersive in its execution. Right from the offset, every single sound feels amplified, each touch magnified – and almost the entire film is shot in close ups, most of which are of Lawrence’s face. This technique is effective as it enhances the haphazard nature of the situation, to make for a disorientating, claustrophobic experience – similar to that of which was used in the Oscar winning drama Son of Saul. We know there are horrors happening all around our protagonist, but they are even more affecting when we can’t see them, we merely get a sense for them from the nuanced facial experiences of the lead.
This ties in well with the paramount theme of the movie, which is the invasion of one’s privacy, which is so perfectly captured. When the house is full of people we feel that excruciating longing for serenity, that feeling where you seek solace but find it so difficult to come by. The intensity of the narrative is helped along too by Bardem, who exudes such a sense of volatility as a performer – there’s a reason he’s renowned for playing villains in Hollywood, for he’s so difficult to judge, and to trust – and this serves the picture well, adding to the isolation felt by Lawrence’s role.
One of the film’s jarring aspects, however, is our investment in the aforementioned character. Naturally by the close of play we are sympathetic to her cause, but it takes a long time to earn our emotional engagement. She’s not particularly accommodating to begin with, and cold towards her guests, and it’s hard not to feel she’s overreacting and uptight. But it’s a fine performance by the actress nonetheless, and her trepidation and sense of discomfort is well-judged, to help ensure this unforgettable film is a challenge to sit through. I mean, it’s not Requiem for a Dream, but it’s fair to say that Aronofsky raised the bar pretty far on that front.
mother! is released on September 15th.