Film Mar­cus Berk­mann


I’m afraid that mother! (18) is de­ranged.

Whether it’s good de­ranged or bad de­ranged is a mat­ter of de­bate, but its barmi­ness is not.

It’s essen­tially a high-bud­get, exquisitely turned night­mare. You will walk out of it drained, and ei­ther thrilled by its ex­tra­or­di­nary bold­ness, or an­gry to the point of med­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion. I think I was all three.

We be­gin in a strange oc­tag­o­nal house in the mid­dle of a com­puter-gen­er­ated corn­field, a house we shall never leave. Jen­nifer Lawrence is the young wife of a blocked writer, Javier Bar­dem, who is so cre­ative he writes only on parch­ment, with scratchy noises. The point-of-view is ut­terly Jen­nifer’s, though: the cam­era fol­lows her around in huge close-up through­out the film.

Who is she? Where has she come from? We don’t know. But we do know that the house burned down at some point, and was some­how re­gen­er­ated by a cu­ri­ous crys­tal that Javier keeps up­stairs in his study. (Potty? We haven’t even scratched the sur­face.)

The house is old and creaky, and Jen­nifer is do­ing it up, when she’s not cook­ing huge feasts for her man. At times, she ca­resses the near­est wall and seems to per­ceive a beat­ing heart within its bricks and mor­tar. Will this be ex­plained? No, it won’t.

As she wan­ders round the house, it makes the most ter­ri­ble groan­ing noises and you keep ex­pect­ing mon­sters to rise up from its depths to men­ace her. In­stead, Ed Har­ris ap­pears on the doorstep. He’s a sur­geon who, for some rea­son, thinks this ridicu­lous house is a B&B. Javier wel­comes him in, while Jen­nifer is nat­u­rally more sus­pi­cious. Ed does an­noy­ing things like smok­ing in­doors, weep­ing un­con­trol­lably and cough­ing ev­ery­where. Next to ar­rive is Michelle Pfeif­fer as his wife: she’s boozy and bitchy and the best thing in the film. When his sons turn up and start fight­ing, you sense the world is spi­ralling out of con­trol for poor Jen­nifer, who just wants her hus­band for her­self.

There are as many in­di­vid­ual ways to in­ter­pret mother! as there are peo­ple who have seen it, but mine is that it’s the in­tro­vert’s worst night­mare. All you want is a quiet life, read­ing and eat­ing and drink­ing and knit­ting, and all th­ese bloody peo­ple keep com­ing round and dis­turb­ing you, and leav­ing in­deli­ble blood stains on the floor.

There is, I’m sure, some kind of in­ter­nal logic within all this, but the film never feels teth­ered to any sort of re­al­ity. This is both pro­foundly an­noy­ing — if it’s a dream, whose is it? — and, bizarrely, its sav­ing grace, be­cause it means that most of the truly ap­palling things that hap­pen later on, you as­sume aren’t hap­pen­ing; that they are purely in some­one’s head.

The film’s pac­ing aids this im­pres­sion: some things hap­pen too quickly, as if in a bad dream, and the last, wild, com­pelling half-hour feels like an as­sault on Jen­nifer Lawrence’s rapidly un­rav­el­ling san­ity, rather than some­thing that is tak­ing place in real time.

And yet, be­cause we are so used to see­ing films and be­ing told a cer­tain type of story, we keep ex­pect­ing re­al­ity to kick in, and for there to be some ex­pla­na­tion for all this. The film is over be­fore you re­alise that none of this is go­ing to hap­pen.

All in all, mother! is the most self­ind­ul­gent film I have seen since the last one Darren Aronof­sky made, but it re­ally stays with you, in a way that thou­sands of lesser works sim­ply do not. Whether it’s any good or not is al­most an ir­rel­e­vance. When I’ve worked it out for my­self, I’ll let you know.

A hugely self-in­dul­gent film. Jen­nifer Lawrence in the baf­fling ‘mother!’

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