It’s commonplace for viewers to adopt a passive approach at the cinema, but a filmmaker that continually challenges audiences and encourages debate is Darren Aronofsky, known for bringing his dark directorial visions to the big screen. With his latest psychological thriller mother!, he has crafted what has become one of the most talked-about movies of the year. The story follows a couple played by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem who appear to enjoy marital bliss in an idyllic rural house that they are renovating. Their peace is shattered when a doctor (Ed Harris) and his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) come to stay unexpectedly and bring mayhem which rudely interrupts the couple’s sense of tranquility.
The film wastes no time in establishing an eerily unsettling atmosphere, and the disorientating camera work adds to this effectively. We are held in claustrophobically close proximity to Jennifer Lawrence’s character, bearing witness to increasingly weird events through her perspective. Because everybody remains unnamed in the narrative, it soon becomes evident that the film’s focus isn’t on the specific characters at all, but what they might represent allegorically. There’s strong biblical symbolism at play as well as a backwards theme of male superiority which affronts modern day feminism, but his microcosmic study is very much open to interpretation. Personally, I understood the piece as a sensationalised metaphor around the struggling artist and their creative process taken to disturbing extremes, and how after the birth of an idea, your life work is exposed to both adoration and criticism from those around you.
As the so-called figurative emblem of Mother Earth itself, Lawrence’s gives a stellar portrayal as the moral compass of the film while insanity swirls around her. As the current partner of Aronofsky, there is a very personal touch to the muse element of her role, and because he dated Natalie Portman during his Black Swan period, the egotistical self-indulgence in Bardem’s performance feels almost semi-autobiographical. That’s not to say Bardem isn’t impressive, as his natural intensity and air of unpredictability is perfectly aligned on this occasion. However, because of the strange anonymity among the characters, everyone is somewhat reduced to being mere pawns in Aronofsky’s twisted auteuristic game.
Even from it’s lowercase title which has been stylised with an exclamation mark at the end, there is an intriguing mystique around mother! that many will and have put down to pretentiousness. Nonetheless, Aronofsky has concocted a film that is boundless by genre, and will be debated and dissected endlessly, and that can’t be a bad thing. Tapping into anxieties and insecurities around losing control of life, it is a difficult, and often infuriorating experience that you may watch through gritted teeth with your hand over your mouth, but it’s also utterly compelling and should not be missed.