Review: Mother!

finds an almost perfect storm in Mother!’s descent into paranoia and sickness

Image: Paramount Pictures

7/10

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris

Length: 2hr 1m

Rating: 18

Jennifer Lawrence stars in this psychological thriller as a young writer’s wife trapped in an initially idyllic country house. But when her husband invites a strange couple to stay, things spiral into a whirlpool of horror and violence. If you were thinking of seeing this because you’re a fan of Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games or X-Men, then this film may not be for you. Much like how a tale of madness was spun around Natalie Portman in Black Swan, this is Jennifer Lawrence getting the Darren Aronofsky treatment.

Image: Paramount Pictures

The film opens with Lawrence waking up in bed and realising that her husband, played by Javier Bardem, is not by her side. Searching around the house for him, she opens the front door and looks out into the hayfields beyond, seeing nothing but the sea of yellow hay around her. In this brief moment it is made apparent that Lawrence will never leave this house, signalling the film’s Kafkaesque nature. It’s a subtle detail, but emblematic of the film’s claustrophobic mise-en-scène, which is dominated by close-ups, point-of- view shots and shaky cam. Alongside a muted colour palette and unsettling sound design, the camera constructs a sickly and uncanny reality in which the timid (and unnamed) Lawrence character is imprisoned. Coupling these visuals and sounds with the Lawrence character’s devotion to renovating the house adds a sense of obsessiveness and mania that exists within every scene.

Lawrence stands out with her quiet and expressive performance, bringing to life a nervous but forceful personality. Lawrence achieves the difficult task of humanising an otherwise heady and allegorical film, where other characters act more conceptually than normal. The notable exception to this is Michelle Pfeiffer, who steals every scene she’s in with a cold and disdainful presence mixed with an unnerving jovial enthusiasm. There is always a sense that she knows more than she’s letting on, her appearance and actions hinting at something greater at play. It would have been nice to see more of her in the film, and although the other actors do a fine job of fitting the strange archetypes they’re given, none of them elevate their roles quite like Pfeiffer does.

This is Jennifer Lawrence getting the Darren Aronofsky treatment.

This is a minor criticism however, as it becomes increasingly clear that the film is more focussed upon the allegorical than the literal, with the strange psychological horror surrounding Jennifer Lawrence transforming into chaotic fantasy. Visually, it’s stunning, with scenes transitioning one after another with startling visuals and motifs. Everything is wonderfully fluid with each transition feeling surprisingly natural; the tiny space of the house used with fantastic efficiency and purpose. The decay of Lawrence’s reality is represented physically through the destruction of the domestic space she strives so hard to repair. Within moments the Kafkaesque atmosphere falls away to Biblical chaos and symbolism, with all of it done almost seamlessly.

Image: Paramount Pictures

However, the film does begin to fragment somewhat in its use of more overt religious and political symbolism. While the intimacy of the first half has a surreal intensity to it, the film explodes into a chaos that is visually and emotively exciting but lacks in a satisfying thematic point. Mother! has clearly been crafted with an attention to detail that is appreciated, but its ending does feel anticlimactic. Not to go so far as describing it as a tale of “sound and fury, signifying nothing” as the film does deserve more credit than that, but there is something lacking about the allegorical narrative that is hard to place. Whatever atmosphere that was built up in the first half was lost in the second, reducing what could have been an intriguing exploration of mental isolation into a more grandiose conversation about the whole of human nature. Which is a shame as the film feels strongest when it covers those more personal aspects.

Nonetheless, this was an intriguing and visually engrossing experience. It is not a film for everyone, as some people will be put off by its more disturbing moments and its gratuitous violence, while others will feel either let down or confused by its allegorical points (myself included on the former). But it is well-acted and beautifully shot, so for those wanting a fresh and engaging, albeit weird cinematic experience, then this film is definitely worth your time.

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