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Mother! (2017)

Review

121min

Genre:     Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Director:  Darren Aronofsky

Cast:       Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris…and more

Writer:    Darren Aronofsky

-Synopsis-

A married couple’s idyllic and quiet rural life is thrown into turmoil by the arrival of a couple of mysterious uninvited house guests, causing an existential shift in the husband while leaving the young wife in a struggle to keep the household and their relationship intact, in this paranoid psychological horror/thriller from the mind of writer/director Darren Aronofsky.

No stranger to unsettling human dramas which plunge into the darkest recesses and horrors of our own minds, Aronofsky has never been shy of disturbing audiences, while challenging their conceptions of themselves and the people around them with graphic and tragic fare. Now armed with a hugely accomplished cast and the home to house them, the bold and visionary Brooklyn filmmaker gives us his most theatrical and foreboding metaphor to date. Using atmosphere as a thread to weave together a pitch black motherhood allegory, a dark parable about users and those who selfishly feed on genuine love—but most importantly the very concept of creation and rebirth, in a film with more in common with his 2014 biblical epic ‘Noah’ than you might expect.

Jennifer Lawrence stars as a young wife and homemaker, striving to create a rural paradise and bring new life to the isolated house she shares with her older husband (Javier Bardem), a celebrated poet suffering from writer’s block. But their little piece of Eden is abruptly thrown into turmoil by the arrival of two unexpected and uninvited guests, a mysterious and intrusive older couple played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, shifting the relationship dynamics of their hosts as confusion and paranoia turns to fear and chaos—revealing the dark underbelly beneath a facade of civility which covers everything.

Perhaps unsurprisingly considering its creator, ‘Mother!’ is a strange and dark one which will uncomfortably string you along before dragging you deep into a perturbing rabbit-hole. While it may at first give the impression of a tense and paranoid but rather traditional psychological horror of uninvited guest proportions, the film’s deep metaphorical and existential nature is made clear when things abruptly escalate to remarkable levels of madness—which give ‘Mother!’ the feel of a confronting and provocative Darren Aronofsky biblical fever dream.

When it comes to the central relationship, key elements of the story and some of the main themes, the parallels with Roman Polanski’s 1968 psychological horror classic ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ are undeniable here, with the director again relying on his regular cinematographer Matthew Libatique (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) for some striking yet stark and unpolished visuals, and compounding it all with an unsettling score from Jóhann Jóhannsson.

But with the heavy symbolism and dark existential musings, Aronofsky takes his own motherhood nightmare in a different direction, yet equally relies on his own leading-lady to anchor the madness. Lawrence delivers another notable performance as the safe harbour of sanity in a turbulent ocean of madness—in contrast to the other characters who represent the darker parts of our impulsive nature, brought to life by a hugely accomplished supporting cast.

To muse over the finer details of the story here would be to spoil the dark mystery of the plot, although ‘Mother!’ remains somewhat of an enigma even after the context becomes clearer and the symbolism more recognisable. So let’s just say that the intent to provoke and unsettle the audience is clear, as it moves from a perplexing character drama built on paranoia and fear in the first act, to then lulling the audience into a false sense of security before plunging everything into morbid anarchy—with recognisable high-minded themes—in a perfect illustration of the phrase “well that escalated quickly”.

What’s very clear though is that Aronofsky hasn’t shaken off the theological preoccupation with creation, destruction, apocalypse and rebirth which he acquired in his rendering of the Noah flood myth. Instead he doubles-down on them with a dark modern mythological human tale built on the foundations of ancient yet timely Christian themes —forewarning us of our well established yet confounding and seemingly inescapable nature. Not only does ‘Mother!’ take digs at idolatry and our flock instinct, but it contemporises timeless themes and even ridicules misguided socio-political movements—doing all of this in a manic third act which essentially dilutes a millennia of human history into one insane and continuous final scene.

Yet what really separates this bizarre and at times seemingly abstract narrative from anything else is the perspective it tells the story from, choosing to view the immediate madness of the story and the all the male-dominated symbolism it represents through the eyes of a woman, and a mother or ‘life-bringer’ at that. Jennifer Lawrence’s character, or the ‘mother’ herself, represents the only shred of sanity left as things descend into anarchy, and is the only character you can or will want to relate to—making what happens to her even more personal, while giving the audience a sense of being violated and used . . . which is precisely the point this female-centric narrative is trying to make.

‘Mother!’ is undoubtedly a provocative and confronting story, but it’s not exactly the easiest film to get on board with, proving too abstract for some and featuring a choppy narrative flow which subtly builds paranoia and menace through the first two acts, with a deliberated pace which threatens to lose the audience—before taking an almighty turn into madness in the third. And if the heavy biblical and theological symbolism passes you by, it may feel like a bizarre and very dark relationship drama about exploitation and one-way love, which then turns into a surreal Freudian nightmare.

Yet for its faults and its confounding and perplexing nature, ‘Mother!’ is yet another incredibly bold cinematic endeavour from a truly unique filmmaker, and if you let the many elements involved sink in, it’s an unforgettable experience—but one which might benefit from a repeat viewing. One major question does remain unanswered for us though. When it comes to the director’s preoccupation with apocalypse, rebirth and the biblical imperative to ‘purge’ the world of its ills (and of the afflicted), is Aronofsky simply using his art to reflect some confronting age-old ideas? . . . or does all of this indicate that he might subscribe to them?

The Bottom Line…

Part surreal and foreboding relationship drama with contemporary themes and enigmatic characters, part metaphoric psychological horror of biblical proportions, but all dark existential musing from the mind of its singular director. ‘Mother!’ might be disturbing, confounding and too abstract for some, but for us this bold and unapologetic thematic experiment in cinema deserves praise for its daring alone, and perhaps another viewing to deconstruct what it says about where we’ve come from . . . and where we may be heading.

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Similar films you may like (Home Video)

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

A young New York couple’s idyllic life and relationship begins to take a turn when they move into an apartment building with a dark history and peculiar neighbours, only for things to become foreboding when the young lady becomes pregnant and begins to suspect the sinister intentions of those around her in this Oscar-winning psychological horror classic from Roman Polanski.

Directed by Roman Polanski and starring Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes and Ruth Gordon among others.

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