REVIEW: mother! (2017)

mother review popcornography

Written By: Nigel Asipa
Black Swan, The Wrestler and Requiem for a dream.  All deal with distortion, obsession, psychological torment, inspiration vs. insanity, a character’s purpose in life, melodrama etc.
mother! incorporates some of those traits but to a much more visceral and unabashedly absurdist degree which Darren Aronofsky describes as a “hand grenade into pop culture”. Originally to be titled Day 6, mother! is by far 2017’s most divisive and discussed film. It’s Aronofsky at his most daring and perhaps his most passionate project to date. Walking out of the theatre had me giddy and perplexed but intrigued.
The story has Jennifer Lawrence’s mother paired with Javier Bardem’s Him. They live in a remote household and they’re newlyweds. While she’s concerned with the house, he’s concerned with his writing. As much as they’re in love with one another, there’s an invisible divide between them (there’s a poster with a crack split between them to offer something of a clue).
While she’s fragile and passive, he’s assertive and self-gratifying. There’s a generational gap between them too, Lawrence looks younger than she appears and Bardem looks rough and worn down.
Ed Harris’ orthopaedic surgeon steps in who happens to be a massive fan of Bardem’s character’s work. He’s not exactly in good shape as his smoking habits are getting the better of him and so Bardem tends to him.
Michelle Pfeiffer arrives as the surgeon’s wife and she’s as delighted to be there as her husband is. While Bardem is more embracing and hospitable, Lawrence is disconcerted and almost offended that these strangers have assumed themselves as guests in her home. More people start to come down and show nothing but contempt and neglect to her household and from then on in things go from subtle to downright maniacal that had me sinking in my seat with utter disbelief that felt like I was in Lars Von Trier territory.
Originally to be scored by Johan Johannsson, Aronofsky favoured nothing but the numbing silence to fill the space with dread and soon mayhem as it would’ve been too telling for the audience.
I would say his craftsmanship will be more revered than his allegorical evocation. It’s pretty on the nose, frank and assaulting. I don’t like or dislike it but I respect it more than anything. The immersive sound design and character perspective cinematography are Oscar calibre. Roman Polanski’s landmark horror classic Rosemary’s Baby’s influence is very much felt but there’s also an old fashioned aura going on here. The grainy texture and the way the characters speak to one another, for a while I was wondering what period it was set in.
There’s also to some extent shades of The Shining too. The insular scope incites much distress and impending violence through everyone involved and there’s marital breakdown as well.
There is absolutely no way you can predict the ending, in fact any of it; I don’t care how well versed you are in the art of cinema. The ending is pretty much the polar opposite of the beginning. It deserves discussion but you do need to have a great deal of tolerance.
With a current F- rating on Cinemascore, many audiences aren’t quite taken with Aronofsky’s dream logic narrative which for him felt like a fever dream. It earned both boos and cheers at the Venice film festival which he can’t be that surprised surely.
The performances are first rate which given Aronofsky’s penchant for melodrama and it being set in one place, the theatricality really shines through. Lawrence is very strong with 66 minutes dedicated to her and she sells the insecurity and fragility of her mother. She’s slowly becomes insignificant to everyone around her which is similar to that Mia Farrow’s Rosemary.
Bardem growls with assumed dominion over everything transpiring but Pfeiffer gives my favourite performance of the whole thing. Her alluring eyes and temptress like presence reminded me that of her role as Catwoman a quarter of a century ago. With this and the upcoming Murder on the Orient Express on the way, it’s so good to see her plucked from obscurity.
With themes of power, feminism, religion, paternal conflict, societal collapse and surely many more, there’s a lot of emotion that Aronofsky has poured into the script, one that took him less than a week to lace.
Through rich symbolism and a tinge of black comedy; he’s calling out the world for its mistreatment of it. He’s worried. It’s perhaps the most naked he’s ever been, although I hear The Fountain is his most profound endeavour (which I do need to watch).
It’s as much getting into Aronofsky’s mind as it is Lawrence’s. An environmentalist and expressionist, universal fears such as the eco system, political infrastructure, and third world starvation have moved him to shake everyone by their shoulders and get us to take better care of everyone.
People ought to see it, just to experience something unique, wild and surprising; in turn discussing why they were fascinated by it or traumatized by it.
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