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Darren Aronofsky goes balls to the wall to make mother! an unsettling, and no doubt highly polarizing, cinematic event writes Matthew Wilson.

The film opens with a young woman – named only as Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) – and her older husband, Him (Javier Bardem) a struggling poet, fixing up their house, the childhood home of Him before it burnt down. They live a peaceful, tranquil life alone in the country, however that life is interrupted by the arrival of Man (Ed Harris), an elderly doctor who arrives believing the place to be a bed & breakfast. Rather than throw Man out into the night, Him allows Man to sleep in one of their spare bedrooms, much to Mother’s annoyance.

Not long afterwards, Man’s wife Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives and makes her presence known with some uncomfortable gossip. Him allows them both to stay but after one too many tragic accidents – including the untimely arrival of Man and Woman’s two sons (Domhnall and Brian Gleeson) – Mother tries to get them to leave but Him wants them to stay, enjoying the passion they have for his poems.

From here the film goes into some strange territory and I don’t want to go too deep into it. The entire third act of the film takes the craziness to eleven and the insanity that Mother is bombarded with takes her on a journey that words cannot describe. There’s some heavy biblical allegory and it’s not pleasant.

Acting is strong throughout. Man and Woman are both relatively normal, Harris is arguably the most normal character of the film but he appears from nowhere with a sickly cough and a bad habit of smoking indoors. Once you find out he’s a fan of Him’s works, you can’t help but wonder what brought him to the house. However, there’s something genuine about him. He feels like the only person that truly connects with Him in a meaningful way. Woman on the other hand was a much more antagonistic force, a seductive temptress who revelled in her sexuality. In quite the opposite to her husband, Woman often comes off as cold and distant, especially in the second act when she becomes quite emotionless.

With Bardem as Him, you’re never sure where your feelings are supposed to lie. At times he’s warm and inviting, at others he’s cold and aloof. His relationship with Mother is a strange one because while he describes her as being his muse and breathing life back into his home. She notices plenty of times where he’ll make decisions without consulting her and you feel that their relationship isn’t as perfect as they think. Bardem has this great quality where he’s able to switch attitudes on a dime. When the attention is lavished on him he’s warm, happy to be the centre of attention, but if anyone crosses him then the cold, haunting, stare lingers on them.

I know Lawrence has gotten some flack recently for sleep-walking through some of the X-Films but mother! is up there as one of her best performances. She appears timid at first, often looking to Him for safety and support. However, she realises he might be forcing this madness upon her. We’re following the film though her eyes and the confusion she suffers through we suffer at the same time and it gets rough at points. Lawrence is put through the wringer with this film and it takes a lot out of her but she sells the hell out of it.

Darren Aronofsky is no stranger to controversy, be it drug abuse in Requiem For A Dream or psycho-lesbian sex in Black Swan. With this though, Aronofsky went all-out. This is designed to be controversial and it’s designed to be as unflinching as possible. It’ll be harsh and it’ll be confusing but it’s one of the few modern arguments for films as an art form where everyone will take to it in a different fashion.

Aside from the biblical references this is absolutely a horror movie. The cinematography captures a sense of claustrophobic dread. There are a lot of close-up on Lawrence’s face that feel suffocating. At certain points, Aronofsky employs a strange shaking effect that disorientates the viewer. Because we’re seeing the film through Mother’s eyes, Aronofsky uses this effect to play around with the timeline. Finally there was the sound design. I thought it was my cinema at first, but Aronofsky has deliberately gone out of his way to make each little creak and scratch as loud as possible. He wants that house to feel like its own character and I think he pulls it off. So much happens throughout that you can’t help but see the house is its own entity.

I want to go into further detail on what makes mother! work but the film is best viewed blind because the experience is worth it. It has been far too long since we’ve had a film this brave, this uncomfortable and this original. And it deserves to be seen, even if you do hate it.

mother! is out now in cinemas.

Matthew Wilson

Operating out of Livingston, Scotland, Matthew Wilson has been self-publishing reviews since 2012 - amassing over 1000 and climbing on his personal account at MovieFanCentral- and has produced a number of short films for his Graded Unit at Edinburgh College. Matthew hopes to start writing and directing his own productions one day, having written several unpublished scripts for film and television.

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Posted on Sep 25, 2017

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