Mother! review & Film Club deals
THE American director Darren Aronofsky doesn’t do anything by halves. His most personal films, such as Requiem For A Dream and Black Swan, play like waking nightmares – feverish, disturbing, driven by insane energy. With its exclamation mark leading the way, Mother! adds a degree of tongue-incheek to its horror palette, but it doesn’t make the experience any less strange or intense.
It starts with the striking image of a young woman’s face wrapped in flames – just in case we thought we were about to watch a romcom or a comedy about parenthood. Then the screen calms, to a lovely sunny morning and an unnamed couple (Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem) in a beautiful, isolated house in the countryside. He is a poet with writer’s block, she his young wife, who has renovated her husband’s house single-handedly in the hope of providing him with the perfect environment in which to rediscover his mojo.
So while she serenely puts the finishing touches to the interiors, he moodily scrabbles around for inspiration. It’s not going well, which may explain his enthusiasm when a stranger (Ed Harris) calls at the house one evening, claiming to have been told that it’s a B&B. Lawrence smells a rat, but Bardem invites him to stay.
The next morning the newcomer’s intimidating wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives and also makes herself at home. The idyll is well and truly destroyed.
The film’s perspective is entirely that of Lawrence’s sweet, loving, increasingly freaked out wife.
The camera is either closeup on the actress’s face, over her shoulder, or showing us what she’s seeing. What we experience, then, is her growing bewilderment, anxiety and eventually fear as more and more people arrive – all warmly greeted by her husband – and violent chaos descends upon her home.
The question of what, exactly, is happening is what gives the film its compelling edge. There’s something of Harold Pinter’s menace in Harris and Pfeiffer’s appalling pair, the wheezing and wheedling man a professed fan of the writer, his wife hitting the liquor cabinet and pushing for details of her hosts’ sex life. At the same time, just as Black Swan evoked Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, this has a powerful, demonic whiff of Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby about it; has the poet made a pact with the devil in exchange for a few lines of verse?
Or is Aronofsky just throwing us red herrings? After all, a director whose imagination is every bit as fertile and perverse as Polanski’s could well have his own ideas about the house guests from hell.
Aronofsky is a divisive, love or loathe figure, and I don’t expect this film to be any different. Some may feel that its conclusion is too self-indulgent or ridiculous, or that the passage of the film that brings its title into play – and which probably earned its 18 certificate – is in very bad taste. But Aronosky’s gifts as a filmmaker, notably for building creepy tension and visualising extreme psychological disturbance, are given full expression here. One sequence of cult-induced carnage is so frightening and so superbly choreographed as to take your breath away. And as a mad allegory about the creative urge, Mother! has a baroque brilliance about it.
Lawrence carries the weight of the film with a performance that is almost entirely reactive; I wouldn’t be surprised if she was kept in the dark about some of the shocks around the corner. And Bardem, best known for sinister bad guys such as his Oscar-winning psychopath in No County For Old Men, is perfectly enigmatic as an artist with an unhealthy willingness to indulge his fans.
Jennifer Lawrence in Mother!