In cinema one of the most engaging of elements is a filmmakers ability to provoke, to entice conversation, and have several likeminded people find themselves miles apart in their own interpretation of art, how we can all watch the same thing and yet each seem to watch something so different to the next. In that regard, Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is an astounding triumph, as a feature we can all attempt to decipher and deconstruct and yet seemingly get no closer to being ‘right ‘ for where films like this are concerned, there isn’t any such thing.
Jennifer Lawrence plays the unnamed woman, who lives at home with her husband (Javier Bardem), an esteemed poet forever on the hunt for new inspiration, while she’s busy making their new house feel more like a home. Protecting their privacy, the pair find any such form of intimacy threatened with the arrival of a doctor (Ed Harris) who mistakes this large, cut-off building for a b’n’b. The poet insists he stays the night, where he’s joined the following morning by his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer). All Lawrence’s beleaguered characters wants is for the pair to leave, but instead they bring their domestic issues with them, and from there on things get weird. Very, very weird.
Aronofsky proved with Requiem for a Dream that he’s well-equipped in creating uncomfortable, immersive cinema and mother! is no different. It’s a visceral piece that lingers on every little thing, each touch so magnified and every sound so thunderous. He adopts a similar technique to that of which Laszlo Nemes used in the Oscar winning Son of Saul, with a film shot almost entirely in close-ups, most of which are of Lawrence’s face. This enhances the sense of disorientation, as we don’t always get a sense for what’s happening around our protagonist, and yet we feel such a part of it, unable to shake it off just as she is. It’s a wonderful turn from Lawrence too, and she plays a flawed character – someone we certainly empathise with (particularly by the final act, believe me) and yet she’s somewhat short-tempered and unaccommodating. Bardem matches his co-star at every turn, bringing an intensity to the role in a way only he knows how. You aren’t even sure it’s been written into the screenplay, but he has this volatility of sorts, and makes for a deeply untrustworthy character, which does nothing but enhance the comfortability of the feature, which is impossible to sit through at times.
But this is a film where any praise (and criticism for that matter) can be squared solely on the man in the director’s chair, for this is a film that is about how you feel, and what you think. He really captures that feeling of having your privacy invaded, as though you have nowhere to turn, nowhere to seek solace – even in your own abode. But what it all means it anyone’s guess. The tale feels almost biblical – is it inspired by that (he did make Noah, after all)? Or perhaps it’s an elaborate take on the creative process, specifically that of the film’s chief poet. Who knows. But hey, isn’t that beauty of it?