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!’