Well. Where to start with this one?
As much as Mother! loses its way around the midpoint, it is without a doubt a film which warrants discussion. It’s certainly likely to divide audiences; those coming for a straightforward psychological thriller will undoubtedly be disappointed (and probably quite confused). Those more familiar with director Darren Aronofsky’s previous work will be prepped for something with a degree of complexity, and that we get in spades. Myself, I fall into the latter camp. I was ready to be dizzied, emotionally battered and surprised. I was to an extent, yet mostly I just ended up a bit bewildered by it all. A similar state to that which Jennifer Lawrence’s Mother finds herself in for much of the film’s runtime.
Which is no coincidence. There’s always a sense that the characters who surround her are all in on a secret that she’s not privy to. And we, the audience, are bound to her from the off, the camera following her intently, replicating her point of view. We know what she knows, and quite regularly, that’s not all too much. It’s exactly this which helps to build increasing levels of tension and intrigue throughout the quiet, creepy and contemplative first half. Whilst this 50% of Mother! is beautifully restrained, the remaining 50%, on the other hand, plummets into loud and excessive chaos. Lawrence’s performance mirrors this. In the first half, she’s at level career best as a put-upon, perfect housewife whose life is spiralling out around her. For the remainder, however, all of the subtlety and nuance she’d brought to the table is replaced by ceaseless wailing and hysterics.
Which is all thanks to Mother’s rising exasperation with her poet husband Him (Javier Bardem), his constant need for fame, and the lack of attention which he pays to her. All of which begins to come to a head when Ed Harris’s strange visitor arrives on the doorstep of the couple’s recently renovated, apparently living home. It all slowly escalates from here. Michelle Pfeiffer, Harris’s wife, rocks up unannounced, imposing herself on Mother and Him, highlighting fractures in her host’s relationship. Him does anything to avoid appeasing his wife, while Mother becomes an outsider in the house she built. The quartet bounces off each other wonderfully; seeing Pfeiffer and Harris antagonise with glee is particularly fun. So it’s disappointing when they then simply disappear, shuffled to the background for an ever-more surreal succession of wellwishers, adoring fans, managers, press and cultists.
I feel as though I should stress just how bizarre (and tiresome) it all gets. Whether intended as comedically absurdist or loftily thought-provoking, it becomes polarising, to say the least. In fact, the final thirty minutes or so I deeply, deeply disliked. Enough so to seriously unravel a considerable amount of the goodwill that Mother! had built up prior to this. Still, to write the film off entirely feels like a disservice. It’s bold, original filmmaking that takes a big swing and fails to connect cleanly. Aronofsky has delved into the human psyche with greater effectiveness in Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream. He’s gone bigger in scale with Noah and The Fountain. This perhaps trumps the lot of them in terms of ambition, but in doing so becomes somewhat of a wildly ambitious mess.
Rating (out of 5):