A full house of hor­rors

Dar­ren Aronof­sky’s darkly comic blend of home-in­va­sion night­mare and eco-para­ble takes some di­gest­ing – but it’s worth it

The Observer - The New Review - - FILM - Mark Ker­mode @Ker­mod­eMovie

mother!

(121 mins, 18) Di­rected by Dar­ren Aronof­sky; star­ring Jen­nifer Lawrence, Javier Bar­dem, Michelle Pfeif­fer

“Noth­ing is ever enough – I couldn’t cre­ate if it was!” You have to ad­mire writer- di­rec­tor Dar­ren Aronof­sky’s al­most re­li­gious de­vo­tion to the para­ble-like pos­si­bil­i­ties of hy­per­ven­ti­lat­ing, sur­re­al­ist cinema. Hav­ing caught crit­ics’ at­ten­tion with the cult low-bud­get sci-fi odd­ity Pi and proved his gritty met­tle with

Re­quiem for a Dream , Aronof­sky gave us time-strad­dling cos­mic mad­ness in

The Foun­tain , com­bined bal­let with meta­mor­phic fan­tasy in Black Swan, and con­jured gi­gan­tic rock-mon­sters in the quasi-bib­li­cal bab­ble-fest

Noah. Now with mother!, a para­noid night­mare that starts out like Polan­ski’s Repul­sion and winds up closer to

Apoc­a­lypse Now, he has stretched the en­ve­lope of out­ra­geous main­stream cinema to break­ing point – and beyond.

We start and end in flames, with an im­age of a fiery face giv­ing way to a mys­te­ri­ous crys­tal, which breathes life and light into a charred, black­ened house. This is the home of Javier Bar­dem’s “Him” (all char­ac­ters are un­named), nur­tured anew by Jen­nifer Lawrence’s de­voted wife. Oc­tag­o­nal in shape, the house var­i­ously re­sem­bles a vast tem­ple and a panop­ti­con prison, with a sin­is­ter hint of the haunted lair from The Ami­tyville Hor­ror. It is a liv­ing pres­ence, with a heart­beat that thrums through its walls and floor­boards, um­bil­i­cally linked to Lawrence’s bare­foot “mother” who har­bours as-yet-un­re­alised dreams of par­ent­hood.

Within this Edenic idyll, Bar­dem’s jaded poet is fail­ing to write his mas­ter­piece – un­til the ar­rival of a mys­te­ri­ous stranger (Ed Har­ris) and his glam­orous, gar­ru­lous spouse (Michelle Pfeif­fer) tick­les his ego­tis­ti­cal fancy. Seem­ingly blind to his wife’s nest­ing in­stincts, the poet rev­els in the ador­ing chaos these out­siders bring. Grad­u­ally, mother!’ s anx­i­eties about breach of pri­vacy turn to some­thing closer to home in­va­sion hor­ror, with the nar­ra­tive stray­ing into the ter­ri­tory of Gra­ham Greene’s short story The Destruc­tors. And then things start get­ting wild at heart and crazy on top.

Aronof­sky has said that the first draft of mother! poured out of him in a five- day “fever dream” and it’s tempt­ing to re­view the re­sult in sim­i­larly spon­ta­neous fash­ion. Yet more than any other of Aronof­sky’s works, this is a film that de­mands dis­tance and de­com­pres­sion. In the screen­ing room I found mother! an in­creas­ingly ex­as­per­at­ing ex­pe­ri­ence – a claus­tro­pho­bic ex­er­cise in ghastly black com­edy; re­lent­less, ridicu­lous, and oc­ca­sion­ally panic-in­duc­ing. Yet give it time to set­tle, and the labour pains of watch­ing mother! pro­duce some­thing that you could grow to love.

The nar­ra­tive can be read in any num­ber of ways: as a Rose­mary’s Baby - style ex­pres­sion of an­te­na­tal para­noia; as a war-of-the-sexes fa­ble about older men feed­ing upon the sup­port of younger women; even as a sim­ple tale of mar­i­tal break­down. Yet there’s clearly an over­ar­ch­ing al­le­gory here about im­pend­ing eco-catas­tro­phe and the mis­treat­ment of Mother Earth. Aronof­sky is un­der­stand­ably cagey about spe­cific mean­ings, but he’s spo­ken of the film as “a snap­shot of the world” threat­ened by over­pop­u­la­tion, cli­mate change, poi­sonous pol­i­tics and war. For him, this is a tale of “a woman who is asked to give and give and give un­til she can give noth­ing more”.

This is fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory for Aronof­sky, who cast Rus­sell Crowe as a fun­da­men­tal­ist eco-war­rior in

Noah, but then left it up to Jen­nifer Con­nelly’s nur­tur­ing Naameh to lend an en­gag­ing hu­man face to his an­ti­hero’s swivel-eyed rav­ings. In­deed, one might see mother! as a sis­ter movie to Noah’s “fa­ther!”, a re­vis­it­ing of the Genesis myth with its own Cain and Abel in the shape of Domh­nall and

Aronof­sky has stretched the en­ve­lope of out­ra­geous main­stream cinema to break­ing point

Brian Glee­son, and fea­tur­ing Bar­dem as an in­suf­fer­ably smug divin­ity. It’s cer­tainly a tale of false mes­si­ahs, evok­ing the re­cur­rent chant from the third act of Tommy (“there’s more at the door”) with the dec­la­ra­tion that “The poet says it’s every­one’s house!”

Through­out this es­ca­lat­ing mad­ness, cin­e­matog­ra­pher Matthew Li­ba­tique keeps his widescreen lens close to Lawrence, peer­ing over her shoul­der, push­ing into her face, cap­tur­ing her sin­gu­lar point of view in long takes that echo Maryse Al­berti’s pur­suit of Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. This is first-per­son cinema, a sub­jec­tive sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence, part wak­ing dream, part walk­ing night­mare. Un­sur­pris­ingly, Aronof­sky cites Buñuel’s The Ex­ter­mi­nat­ing An­gel as in­flu­en­tial, al­though hor­ror fans may find them­selves re­call­ing the in­sane grotes­queries of Rug­gero Deodato, along with the pul­sat­ing plas­tic re­al­i­ties of David Cro­nen­berg ’s Video­drome .

As for me, the fur­ther away I get from mother!, the closer it moves to my heart. It’s a deliri­ous, dis­grace­ful ex­pe­ri­ence – just make sure you give it space to breathe.

Niko Tav­ernise/Para­mount

‘Re­lent­less, ridicu­lous, panicin­duc­ing’: Jen­nifer Lawrence and Javier Bar­dem in mother!.

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