Darren Aronofsky is a fun name to say. It trips off the tongue. I have no idea why I started this written review with a segment about how the name of a movie directer sounds, so can we start again? Okay, good. Darren Aronofsky is an interesting figure in the world of modern filmmaking. He has made films that will echo in the annals of movie history, like Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler and Black Swan, but he has never been easy. His films are mired in controversy or bad reviews. Requiem was hit with an NC-17 that could have killed the film. The Wrestler was called anti-Iranian and with Black Swan there were claims that star, Natalie Portman, didn’t dance as much as it was asserted, not to mention Noah‘s banning by religious groups. So, he has a new film out called mother! (yes the exclamation point is important): how has Aronofsky pushed people’s buttons this time?
Set in a spacious isolated house mother! follows a married couple with some relationship issues. He is a writer suffering from writer’s block and she is obsessed with the upkeep of this vast structure. Their seclusion is demolished when another couple turns up out of the blue. However, there is more to them than meets the eye.
Mother! is an interesting film to talk about because it is so divisive. It is marketed as a psychological horror film and while there are elements of this in the film, Aronofsky has crafted a film that perhaps belongs in its own genre. Going into the film expecting horror is bound to create some ill will toward it. I am not particularly sure of how to describe the film genre-wise, I guess that it will be a very personal experience and that will make mother! something only you will have seen.
Similarly, people who look past the genre mismarketing find a rather obvious allegory that Aronofsky has placed within this film. Either that or the allegory is too confused to fit into one simple definition. This overly religious aspect to the film can also put people off, though one wonders how this is any different to Aronofsky’s previous directing credit, Noah a story from the Bible. Aronofsky has been making religious films since his debut in 1998 with Pi. While Pi was more surreal and cerebral, mother! wears its metaphor on its sleeve, maybe that’s why critics have responded negatively to mother! Though maybe that is the point, to get mother! stuck in your head so you think it over and over: a combination of uncertainty about an obvious metaphor, a challenge to their status as keepers of taste and experts on everything celluloid. But I could be pontificating like a pretentious critic placing their own opinion as fact.
However, I really enjoyed mother! Even with bad marketing and the obvious, at times confusing, allegory. It is an emotional experience rather than a narrative one. This film will unsettle and disturb you through a masterful use and understanding of close-up cinematography. We never really leave our main character, both her and her point of view. She, as well as other characters, are framed uncomfortably close in a way to put audience hackles up, or conversely, things are too far away or only glimpsed briefly, and it is our/her imagination of what is going on, or what she might have seen, that conjures up some truly disturbing terrors.
This is also thanks to a wonderful collection of ensemble performances. Jenifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem are hypnotic as our enigmatic central couple, backed up by great turns from Michelle Phiefer Ed Harris and a sudden turn to the dramatic from comedy star Kristen Wiig. It is their performances that sell this film, especially Kristen Wiig, who is just… I don’t want to say in case I spoil it, but oh my god…
From the start of mother! I was hocked. It is not going to be for everyone as exhibited by the rest of the audience talking through the film and checking their phones. Seriously, guys, that’s cinema etiquette 101.
You can watch mother! in cinemas now