Darren Aronofsky’s new film feels as though something Roman Polanski and Andrzej Zulawski may have cooked up if challenged to loosely adapt Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat. It really is that remarkable. Not to take anything away from the Brooklyn-born director; Mother! feels as though Aronofsky completed the big budget production of 2014’s Noah with a yearning to venture back into exploring insanity and psychosis, which may explain why this is his most surreally chaotic film to date.
Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem star in the lead roles as a couple who live out a peaceful existence in a grand home that Lawrence’s character has spent years renovating for her husband. He is a writer struggling for inspiration. Even though all would seem well between this dynamic, it is anything but. There is a sense of impending and lurking devastation; the camera, even in initial moments of possible intimacy, seems uncomfortably close. The eerie atmosphere felt in the house is soon replaced with one of invasive tension when a man turns up unexpectedly under the impression that the couple’s home is a bed and breakfast. The husband encourages him to stay, which is even odder than it sounds – the mysterious stranger is a doctor, but a doctor with a dreadful cough. Nothing he says can be believed, he is deftly misconstrued. The husband is more than hospitable much to the dismay and bewilderment of his wife, and then circumstances escalate. More visitors begin to appear, and peace plunges into pressure.
The most distressing aspect of the film is that everything that the wife does, all the renovations and labour undertaken to craft the perfect home, is completely selfless. Everything she has strived for is being destroyed, and the tragedy certainly lies in that none of it was for her, but for her husband. The film feels very much like a total abolition of a woman’s effort and love for a man that is more concerned with the words he writes than the words he says to his wife. As the disruptive guests bombard her with inappropriate and offensive questions, her husband is nowhere to be seen, because anyone that possesses any admiration for him in the phase of his writers block is assuredly welcomed into their home. As this disguised onslaught continues, madness surrounds our overwhelmed protagonist.
The first act is curious; the audience is taught to be wary of the home-invaders by being positioned with the wife, her reaction is always magnified whenever the husband makes a decision that should be made by the both of them. These numerous reaction shots seem to unveil that of a silenced prisoner, and it is as if she is going to burst, screaming “what is going on here!?” within every single frame. This sympathy is a result of our understanding that these guests are complete strangers. Then it hits. The protagonists are also complete strangers; audiences are introduced to them hastily just before the first of the pack arrive. Under this realisation, the audience cannot be sure of anything at all, and this sense of the unknown fuels Mother! until the entire piece seems to explode into a parade of hypnagogic torments that can only be described as hell or hallucinations.
Lawrence is phenomenal in the lead role, and never for a minute allows you to abandon the battleground her home has cascaded into. As for Bardem, his ability to achieve a falsely cool and calculated address in the face of nightmarish oblivion is imperiously uncomfortable. The character’s egotistical motivations and actions are convincingly substantiated through an enchanted glare that rarely strays from the actor’s semblance. The doctor and his wife are also brilliantly tackled by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer; the entire cast is evidently so enthusiastic to work with the incredibly talented director behind such wonders as The Wrestler, Requiem For a Dream and perhaps the most thematically and frenziedly similar, Black Swan.
Aronofsky has created a piece of cinema with Mother! that feels like a rare, dying breed in modern cinema, and what may be most shocking about this, is that you can go and see it at the multiplex right now. There will always be a place for innovative, daring filmmakers such as these, and this creation proves that.