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‘mother!’ (review)

Produced by Darren Aronofsky,
Scott Franklin, Ari Handel
Written and Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem,
Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson


Written in a fevered frenzy over a period of five days, writer and director Darren Aronofsky has described writing the script for Mother! as a fever dream, which is coincidentally also a rather apt description of what it feels like to watch his latest effort.

As seen from the point of view of lead Jennifer Lawrence for the majority of its runtime, Mother! tells a strange, yet compelling story that is incredibly confrontational not only in terms of its cinematography and imagery, but also in terms of how it challenges the viewer.

By dealing with themes such as privacy, idolatry and the pitfalls of interpersonal relationships, the viewer’s own perceptions become part of the viewing experience, which makes watching the film a very subjective affair.

Moving through its narrative with an increasing amount of tension and surrealism, Mother! takes its time to build its mounting layers of unease and mystery, at times raising the question of how much of what is happening is actually real and how much is potentially hallucinated by Lawrence’s character. Much like Rosemary’s Baby unfolded from the point of view of Mia Farrow’s character of Rosemary Woodhouse, the story of Mother! unfolds from the perspective of Jennifer Lawrence’s character, as we are constantly either following directly behind her or seeing her react to the increasingly frustrating behavior of her husband and the mysterious guests that continue to arrive at their house. As such, we know as little as she does, and the heavy use of close-ups and Steadicam pulls the audience completely into the film, forcing them to process any given event occurring on the screen.

The acting performances further drive home the odd mix of plausible reality and hellish nightmare, as the various characters slowly become exacerbated versions of various personality types that most of us have probably crossed paths with at some point. Michelle Pfeiffer makes an impressive return to the big screen as she plays a particularly obnoxious character with a subtly menacing undertone, and while Pfeiffer and the rest of the cast do very well as a whole, the standout performance is undoubtedly that of Jennifer Lawrence; she manages to convey the confusion and frustration of her character without losing any of the humanity or groundedness necessary for the audience to invest in such an intense role, easily making this the best performance of Lawrence’s career thus far.

There is much to take away from Mother! and mull over once the end credits roll, as the film is brimming with allegories and symbolism. However, while some viewers will enjoy sitting back for two hours to let the surrealist piece of cinema that is Mother! take them on an abstract, absurdist ride, this will instead be a drawback for others, who will find the viewing experience beyond tedious. It should also be noted that the film’s weird and winding story will require you to remain in your seat for the entirety of its runtime, as even the briskest trip to the bathroom or concession stand leaves you at risk of missing a twist or turn that will leave you completely lost as to how on earth everything managed to escalate this much beyond comprehension in just a few minutes.

Additionally, those who are expecting a horror film in the more traditional sense may also leave the theater feeling dissatisfied. While Mother! contains some hauntingly visceral imagery in the final act in particular, much like Aronofsky’s Black Swan was not an outright horror film, it still had hints of horror imagery, which added to the visceral nature of that film. Mother! once again uses this approach, making it more of a drama/thriller that cleverly blends reality and surrealism, which makes it that much more arresting in all its confounding glory.

Love it or hate it, Aronofsky has undoubtedly created something quite special with Mother! as the film leaves an unsettling mark, which merits multiple viewings to even begin to comprehend the full extent of its meanings and metaphors.


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