Sunday 17 September 2017

Film Review: Mother!

Darren Aronofsky has no more fucks to give and $30 million to burn; step inside his abstract house of horrors in Mother!

In Mother!, Jennifer Lawrence plays Mother, wife to Javier Bardem's Him. Their idyllic isolation is shattered when a stranger (Ed Harris) arrives and outstays his welcome, soon followed by his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer).

Abusing their hospitality and pulling at the frayed edges of Mother and Him's odd relationship, the newcomers increasingly upset the status quo until the quartet reach an inevitable breaking point.

Mother! is painful and uncomfortable to watch; it's so loud and brash and uncompromisingly on-the-nose with how it treats its metaphorical material that it will divide audiences into two distinct camps; those who admire it for its brazen efforts at distilling sprawling Old Testament narratives into a single house and those who dismiss it as incomprehensible arthouse wank or despise it for its truly horrifying imagery and relative incoherence.

Mother! is unbelievably violent and graphic; sometimes that arrives in shocking bursts, other times it is sustained and upsetting. It's a swirling storm of maddening destruction and creation that is both intimate and vast in its attempts to traverse commentary on everything from gender and celebrity to religion and the environment to Biblical parallels such as the Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel and Revelations, to name but a few.

It's a feverish waking nightmare which I found impossible to look away from, my jaw locked in a state of shock for the entire final 30 minutes. Just when you thought it couldn't get any weirder, Aronofsky steers the film into stranger and more confronting territory. The best part is, this often happens inch by inch; like a dripping tap that soon fills an entire basin, Aronofsky builds to these shattering crescendos so gradually that it's unsettling just how mental it gets come the end.

Lawrence gives one of her best (if not the best) career performances to date, which is saying something. A mixture of muted passivity, flustered exasperation and, eventually, unrestrained fury and destruction, she tears through the house in the final act, proving her detractors wrong by all accounts. With the camera locked in a tight close-up of her face for essentially 50 per cent of the runtime, Mother! is a platform for Lawrence to flex those acting chops and she doesn't disappoint.

Bardem is also excellent, as are supporting players like Pfeiffer, Harris and a few others I won't mention for fear of spoiling the second and third acts.

The total lack of score only works to heighten the unsettling aura that surrounds the house; in its place, Aronofsky employs some truly excellent sound design, with every creak, crunch and shriek setting the audience on edge.

Mother! is the kind of film that will foster ardent discussion in the lobby afterwards, both for and against. It's undeniably powerful and unique, a dizzying, nauseating exploration of dark desires that goes places you wouldn't believe.

The Verdict: 8.5/10

Utterly bereft of a little thing called subtly, Darren Aronofsky has penned and shot a film in Mother! that beats audiences over the head with a string of destructive and resonant religious metaphors. Lawrence and Bardem are great, the technical aspects are exemplary; it's the material that will divide audiences more than any film you'll see this year. You'll either walk out with shellshock or shaking in anger. 

Mother! is in cinema across Australia now.

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