mother! (2017) (Review)

Goodness knows where you begin dissecting mother!, the latest film from the dark mind of Darren Aronofsky. Renown for his twisted, never-shattering approach cinema, his latest - starring my darling, academy award-winning Jennifer Lawrence - has been dubbed as the most controversial film of the decade and spliced critics right down the middle, earning both enthusiastic cheers and seething boos at Venice Film Festival last month. Unleashed on global audiences today, the divisive furore shows no signs of subsiding - so on which side of the fence do I find myself on?

A young woman (Lawrence) and her older husband's (Javier Bardem) tranquil existence in the country is disrupted when a mysterious couple enter their home. Rebuilt from rubble by the unnamed woman in her husband's image, their relationship is challenged as more people beginning entering their life with unclear motives. Knowing as little as possible about this film is key to your 'enjoyment' in it and by allowing it to sweep you up in the 121 minutes of sheer lunacy and unparalleled insanity without prior insight, you are bound to form some intense opinions of your own about it.

We'll get it out of the way quickly: as of this writing, I absolutely adored mother!. It is admirable, undeniably bold and f*cking deranged film-making, with extraordinary imagery and biblical parallels  woven throughout its rich tapestry of physiological horror mastery. It will no doubt, and rather deservingly, go down as a cult favourite in the future.

Tomorrow though, I could very easily loathe it. It's so overwhelming, grotesque and numbing that you could very easily call it complete trash and I wouldn't care to argue. I don't think that will be the case for me but I certainly wouldn't attack anyone possessing that viewpoint or mindset.

mother! (yes, I will refuse to use a capital M and insist on using an exclamation mark every time, thank you very much) is a film you must let stew. It needs to be digested; reward it with your reflection. Its themes, incorporated into Aronofsky's script with twisted delight, are so mammoth and ambitious that it is simply impossible to immediately connect the dots and absorb it in one sitting.

Brimming with wider-references of epic, biblical proportions - Mother Earth's rage, anyone? - it has no qualms about introducing ideas without providing answers - because the sort of questions mother! considers are unanswerable, all down to interpretation and without definitive evidence. It's a film of immense subjectivity and the door is smashed open for debate, confirmed by the bewildered looks shared with fellow audience members as we shuffled out the cinema, in silence and in awe/disgust.

In my eyes, it is a perfect exploration of fandom and celebrity, heightened by the obvious links to Christianity that have already caused uproar from the Church. When Aronofsky promised controversy, he wasn't half-kidding. While cautious of spoilers (you will enjoy it more completely blind to foresight and knowledge), seeing really is believing - as is plastered over the mindful, limited marketing material - and the images inflicted on us by Aronofsky with the backing of a major Hollywood studio, is astounding for its grotesque and messianic approach.

His direction, mainly continual uses of extreme close-ups breathing down Miss Lawrence's squirming neck, is masterful: your anxiety is more suffocated by the minute as Aronofsky cranks up the intensity degree by degree, until excruciating heights are attained and maintained through the berserk final act. Matthew Libatique's cinematography infuses a shocking beauty and brutality into proceedings, a visual spectacle for the squeamish that uses metaphors and allegories like they are going out of fashion. From bleeding floorboards to butchered beings, mother! is a twisted assault on the visual sense (and pretty much every other sense), completely gorgeous and unnerving.

It is fair to say though that this would be nothing without a certified film star to anchor it all; in Jennifer Lawrence, they have found the perfect person. In a way very few actresses could, Lawrence commands your attention in the midst of such monstrous questions, brutal violence and gigantic assertions, with a magnetic performance oozing with strength, vulnerability, fear, shock and pain. Enhanced by the physically close proximity thanks to the impressive camerawork, you stand by her side through the expanding, all-consuming Hell than engulfs her. It's an astounding, confident and shattering performance - I'd argue a career-best - and the campaign for (at the very least) an Oscar nomination begins here, today, with me.

Our supporting players - Bardem, a game, award-worthy Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris - are tremendous in Lawrence's shadow. Bardem, whose religious allegory comes more blatant as the film progresses, possess an intense quality initially distant from the more subdued Lawrence, making them a perfect balance of the two extremes. Their relationship and dynamic is completely intoxicating, fascinating to watch and all the more intriguing as the parallels and symbolism begin to transpire. Pfeiffer is on fire as a sneering and consuming uninvited guest, with a handful of moments that makes your jaw hit the floor with quite some force. While Harris is not provided quite as much material to contend with, it is mysterious turn that allows the cogs to begin turning, albeit slowly. As well as  (quite literally) mind-blowing cameo from Kristen Wiig - another personal favourite - the entire cast is game and engaged and ready to make you squirm and fidget with blatant discomfort.

Particularly peculiar about mother! is the lack of soundtrack. While Johann Johannsson was drafted as the composer for the film, his soundtrack was later shelved after a mutual agreement between him and Aronofsky; instead, he curates a soundscape that intensifies the slightest noise and movement to really cultivate the heart-pounding atmosphere the film relies on - and completely nails with flying colours. It's another brave example of the film's willingness to go bold or go home, with the off-setting silence contrasted perfectly with the power of each sudden creaking floorboard, creeping footstep or door bell to signal a new guest to infest the couple's paradise. Bound to win the team a nomination in the forthcoming award season, the soundscape is another masterful element mother! excels at.

At points controversial and at other points extremely controversial, mother! doesn't tread lightly with its violence. Up until the final twenty minutes, I sat questioning the film's 18-rating and wondered whether I had become too desensitised to violence on screen to notice. However, when act three kicks off in its indulgent gore and glory, it is clear to see boundaries are being pushed to their limits. One sequence, where the biblical references come most dramatically into effect, is completely horrifying, harrowing and almost nauseating, pushing even the term 'horror' to its limit. That Paramount, the distributor, has allowed this display of brutality on to screens is truly shocking - but all the more admirable for their bravery, and unwavering commitment, to Aronofsky's gritty artistry.

Although heavy on the religious references and parallels, it does not distract too much from your appreciation of the film. As a matter of fact, most of my interpretations have been cultured by further reading, where you truly begin to understand the thought that has been poured into this startling portrait of humanity. Aronofsky's script is riddled with so much sophistication and a surprising amount of elegance that it actually becomes a cathartic example of the film's possibility to present such large-scale abstractions to us and succeed, without feeling too forced. I genuinely want to read up on every interpretation, theory and opinion on mother! for the foreseeable future.

mother! is physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting, even before it reaches its insane crescendo, where everything and the bathroom sink is thrown at the wall. A cinematic experience of previously unmeasured proportions, mother! is a raw and visceral escapade, sadistic in the most artistically-rewarding sense - a complete assault on every major sense in your body.

A film about art and nature and creation; of destruction; a story about rage and wrath; one of love and loss and death and murder; of darkness - completely blackness. A film unlike any other, a truly visceral experience. mother! will claw at you furiously, through its slow start and balls-to-the-wall finale to its greater meaning and deeper reflections on life, on the world, on religion and on rebirth. mother! isn't for everyone but by god you should submit and find out.

I left mother! slightly shaking, struggling to breathe and completely enthralled and in awe. Isn't that what art is for?


Summary: From Jennifer Lawrence's faultless performance to Darren Aronofsky's pitch black mind, direction and script, mother! is like no film you have ever seen before and will leave you numb and gasping for air when the credits roll.