A face in the flames, a red veined glass ingot and a rotting house on the brink of collapse. Aronofsky’s MOTHER! begins as it ends, in a cyclic environmental commentary graced by a sinister biblical parable.
Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem excel on the screen as a nameless man and wife under the watchful gaze of a third, equally important character: the house, into whom Bardem desperately wishes to ‘bring life’. Lawrence spends a significant portion of the first half tending to the restoration of the house, undeterred by floorboards creaking under foot and the wall pounding a literal heart beat. However, the arrival of Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer brings about an unease that even the house begins to feel. The story culminates in a religious plague, in tandem with many other analogous biblical references; highlighting the social and environmental flaws humans have cursed upon the planet.
Aronofsky has developed greatly since his last feature NOAH back in 2013. The stories of MOTHER! and NOAH, although inferably twinned through religion, have narratives and character expressions which could not be further apart. From the opening scene, Bardem obscures himself in mystery. A poet whose pen and paper have long dried up, desperately seeking inspiration to begin writing once more. And Lawrence, a younger, more cautious character who awakes from her bed one morning in a house which although familiar, appears somewhat peculiar. However, it isn’t until more and more people turn up at the house that their true personalities are evident. The mystery of Bardem and the confusion of Lawrence soon alter, driving the plot down a dark path which was the reason behind the film’s 18 certificate.
Acutely aware of how Lawrence is feeling on screen, the audience will writhe and shuffle in discomfort…
MOTHER! utilises the intimacy of a practical chamber-piece performance and forces more claustrophobia into an already tight environment. Acutely aware of how Lawrence is feeling on screen, the audience will writhe and shuffle in discomfort. Aronofsky has carefully crafted a film which draws out not only an affinity to Lawrence from the audience (as she is the only relatively relatable and psychologically sane character) but also to the house. Intense and suffocating scenes coax the audience into a respiratory cadence paralleled with the heartbeat of the house and the frustration of Lawrence.
The film relies on the impact of silence and the slightest of creaks to develop the terrifying atmosphere of the house. Having originally intended to have a full score to accompany the film, Aronofsky later chose to not include it. This choice strips the film of a fantasy veil that music can add to a thriller or horror film, which weakens the authenticity and suspense of the scene. (An example of this would be the current trailer for JIGSAW (2017))
This disjointed family drama results in a cult-like conclusion with explosive proportions, likened to APOCALYPSE NOW by Mark Kermode. Appearances from Domhnall Gleeson and Kristen Wiig, in surprisingly fresh roles, exaggerate the outrageous conclusive build up the film develops. In particular, credit should be given to Wiig who comfortably stands alongside Lawrence, capable of grabbing the audience’s direct attention in many dark scenes whilst still channeling her expected zany personality.
MOTHER! is a polarising, dark tale which infests the mind and eyes of its audience. The intensity of the story requires a watchful eye from the audience to capture each and every carefully placed and well disguised reference. Slated by some for its dramatic and ludicrous progression, the true beauty and success of this film lies in the simplest of details which encase around a much greater narrative – for example, the biblical consequences of Harris’ wound. What could potentially be easily overlooked, the lesion on Harris’ ribs is presented to the audience shortly before Pfeiffer’s arrival the next day – followed by their troublesome sons. Presented with this interpretation and a basic knowledge of the Genesis scripture, only one godly couple comes to mind – Adam and Eve. Utilising a fictional eerie setting to relay the hard hitting message of human-caused environmental and social damage is a triumphant feat for Aronofsky – who reports that he wrote the initial drafts in only five days.
Aronofsky has successfully entertained cinema audiences with many controversial releases and MOTHER! is just the next addition to his screen legacy. Originally he had intended to write a children’s film before the idea of MOTHER! came to him, and we can only look forward to whatever creative and characteristically dark idea comes to him next. Maybe a grim children’s tale from Aronofsky could come crawling out of shadows and onto the big screen in the coming years?