The tagline “You have no idea where this movie will take you” says it all – mother! more than earns its exclamation mark.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
A nameless woman (Jennifer Lawrence) lives a life of peace and tranquillity in an isolated country home with her similarly anonymous poet husband (Javier Bardem). Their days are leisurely passed with her painting and renovating the house while he works on his written masterpiece, until one day a stranger (Ed Harris) appears on their doorstep looking for a place to stay. The wife is unimpressed when her husband gladly accepts, and less so when the man’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) turns up to board with him. The stranger’s bizarrely rude and erratic behaviour, and its influence on her husband is just the beginning of her torment: there’s many, many more unwelcome guests to come as all hell breaks loose.
“What the fuck?!” is something you’ll no doubt be exclaiming, or at least thinking a number of times throughout Darren Aronofsky’s mother! That’s right, the master of stressfully intense character dramas is back, and well and truly on form again after the disappointment of Noah. His latest rivals even Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan as his most viscerally extreme, WTF force of nature.
Like those cinematic nightmares, mother! puts its central character through a metaphorical meat grinder, continuing Aronofsky’s recurring motif of naïve women suffering for their optimism and hopeful attitude. It’s slow building, with Aronofsky creating a sanctuary for his two lovers before infesting it with the unpredictable couple that infect their paradise. It’s then that the house becomes oppressive and claustrophobic, practically imprisoning… to say much more would spoil it, but it’s safe to say this is some of the most batshit crazy stuff to come out of a studio film.
It seems almost a shame that its director and star confirmed it as a Biblical allegory, since it really feels like there could be multiple ways to interpret this purposefully ambiguous thrill ride. Aronofsky destroys cinema conventions and genre while twisting them into and abominable horror and satire, while spiritually condemning human beings for their sins; namely their chief sin of existence.
Scaling back to another level though, it’s tempting to view this as a metaphor for the struggles of fame and how destructive and toxic it can be on its subjects. The swarms of people that invade the house have no sense of personal space, secrecy or morality, and are capable of doing awful things to the people they supposedly worship, coming off very much like crazed paparazzi and fans. It’s all too appropriate given that Jennifer Lawrence is at the centre of all this; having faced a similar invasion of privacy as her nudes were leaked a few years ago, it’s no doubt she’s channelled much of her own stress and horror into her performance.
Which brings us to J-Law herself. She’s spent most of her relatively short career in the tween-pleasing feminine heroes of The Hunger Games and X-Men, and roles in self-indulgent David O. Russell Oscar-bait. Finally, she seems to have grown out of the annoying “so-quirky-and-relatable” persona and matured into a real actress, delivering on the excellence she promised way back in Winter’s Bone. Here, she confidently handles the rollercoaster of emotions as hell is unleashed upon her. Lawrence famously cracked a rib while hyperventilating in the film’s climactic scenes; it’s not hard to see why.
Upsetting, shocking, brilliant, abhorrent… there’s thousands of words that could be used to describe Aronofsky’s technical masterpiece of mayhem, but simply, it’s unlike just about anything else out there. There’s no questioning that this is a love it or hate it experience, but regardless of opinion a stunned silence is no doubt guaranteed. That, and exclaiming “What the fuck?!”
mother! is available in Australian cinemas from September 14
Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures