Distantly inspired by natural disasters, Mother! hits like a hurricane. A truly unique and violent experience which continues to violate every thought long after viewing, its a surreal, apocalyptic mirror of humanity.
“It is a mad time to be alive” reads the opening claim of Darren Aronofsky’s director’s statement for Mother! which works simultaneously as apocalyptic commentary on the modern world and an inviting caution of the cinematic experience ahead. This notion of contemporary madness was echoed at the film’s UK premiere, the screening prefaced with reflections on the parallels of natural disaster and media obsession as if one was subsequent to the other. Such whispers and distant illusions were the only indications of the film’s content prior to its slot at the Venice film festival which concluded with a soundtrack of boos, ovation and the violent scratching of heads. A cocktail of reactions to a strong mix of ideas, or as Aronofsky phrases it, “a recipe [he]won’t ever be able to reproduce…best drunk as a single dose in a shot glass.”
Written in just five days after its concepts dawned on him in a “fever dream,” Mother! is Aronofsky’s most experimental work yet. Its plot proves hard to discuss as a result, a free-verse poem of a film best experienced blind. Jennifer Lawrence’s unnamed housewife is devoted to her poet husband (Javier Bardem) who is suffering from severe writer’s block when an uninvited guest (Ed Harris) interrupts the tranquillity of their home and begins to test their stability as a couple and as human beings.
Experienced almost entirely through her performance, Lawrence is visceral in the lead role. Claustrophobic close-up photography provides an inescapable relationship between audience and protagonist experience, serving to tighten the vice of tension to the point of snapping. Integral to its success in doing so is Lawrence, or specifically her volcanic sense of breaking purity which only she could achieve. Body and mind are pushed to their absolute limit, emphasised further by set stories of her hyperventilating resulting in the dislocation of a rib – fitting considering some of the film’s biblical notes and the character’s essence of Eve.
It’s fortunate that the same is yet to be inflicted on the audience, the air of the cinema proving much harder to breathe in Mother!‘s presence. With its unrelenting brutality, it doesn’t take long before the concept of the film deriving from natural disasters begins to feel like the perfect analogy. Mother! was born in a storm and hits like a hurricane. Hyperventilation becomes just a replacement for natural breathing.
Although Mother! evokes such a reaction, it skilfully dresses as psychological horror but acts more as a surrealist assault piece. Consequently, it will divide opinion; those anticipating a thriller are instead met with a chaotic and violent onslaught of complex symbolism and broad subtext. Aronofsky is sometimes guilty of an over indulgence in the symbolic, Mother! being no exception to that rule; occasionally going a fraction too far with overtly stylistic elements that arguably betray its tone. This is a film closer to Buñuel than Hitchcock, offering a vision far more suited to art house than to mainstream cinema. For that it will be hated by many and hailed by a select few but is guaranteed to be forgotten by none.
As hurricanes destroy countries and the many continue to live on in a blissful ignorance, Mother!’s hellish deconstruction of humanity couldn’t feel more timely. Its imagery and overall mental violation remain long after viewing, provoking an inexplicable substance of worry. A reoccurring stain which spreads and manifests into an eroding worldview. Its ideas take some time to settle, a few still haven’t, but their immediacy and relevance ensure you think on them regardless. For a director so acclaimed for his ability to challenge, Aronofsky has conducted what may be his darkest and most effecting vision. Like its uninvited guests, Mother! is a film you can’t quite seem to make leave.
Mother! (2017), directed by Darren Aronofsky, will be distributed in the UK by Paramount on September 15, 2017, Certificate 18.