Of all the directors I can think of off the top of my head, Darren Aronofsky is without a doubt the one with whom I have the most mixed relationship. Whilst 2010’s Black Swan remains one of my favourite films from the last decade, my hate for 2014’s Noah has grown and grown since this overly positive (in my new found opinion) review upon its initial release. The mystique around the director’s latest project, Mother!, achieved the strange feat of making me excited for a film about which I knew almost nothing, so in I went hoping for more of Black Swan and less of Noah.
And I suppose, in the end, the film gives you 50% of each, but that didn’t stop me from hating nearly every minute of it. In true Aronofsky style, Mother! tells the entirely metaphorical and allegorical story of a young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) whose life starts to fall apart when the peaceful tranquility of the home she shares with her poet husband (Javier Bardem) is destroyed by a revolving cast of intruders lead by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer. This short premise makes the film sound promisingly interesting, but once the clear religious connotations start to click in to place, any interest I might have had turned in to exasperation at the inaccessible self indulgence that was taking place on screen.
Fine, call me a philistine if you must, but in my opinion Mother! is two hours of Aronofsky indulging in all of his worst cinematic tendencies, only very partially redeemed by admittedly good cinematography. The director has no intention of helping his audience, you are simply on his insane wavelength or you aren’t, and this is the type of elitist filmmaking that I really don’t like. From a quiet, controlled beginning, the narrative quickly spirals in to the deep realms of surrealism, disorientating and disjointed to the degree that by the time the absolutely chaotic final third comes in to view, you have absolutely no idea where you are or what you are doing. And not in the good, mysterious kind of way, in the frustrated by deliberately obtuse story telling kind of way. I have spoken with a few people who have said that you can only truly appreciate the film once it has finished and time has passed. Call me basic, but what I look for in a cinematic experience is for its power and message to come through at the time, whether it be comedic, dramatic, horrific or anything in between.
And whilst we’re on cinematic experience, the one that Mother! provides is so oppressive and intense that ‘enjoyment’ is so far from the word of the day. The film feels more like an ordeal or test rather than something to spend £10 on on a Friday night. I can’t quite bring myself to call it entertainment, though it certainly is a form of art and expression.
In terms of performances, my dislike of Mother! is very much to do with the narrative content and filmmaking style rather than the stars involved. Thanks to the way that Aronosfky has chosen to shoot the film, you find yourself looking at Jennifer Lawrence rather than actually watching her perform. It feels like the majority of her time on screen is spent in close up, reactionary shots, and though she certainly puts a lot of emotion in to the role, there is only so much I can take of a single actor looking confused or upset in the space of two hours. Javier Bardem as ‘Him’ is solid but not remarkable, the chemistry he and Lawrence share is believable, it’s just a shame (in my opinion) that they were brought together for this rather than something else.
Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer as the intruders that begin the descent in to chaos are clearly having fun, with Pfeiffer in particular providing the audience with the closest thing to humour in the entire picture. She excels as the campy, sassy, sexy stranger Eve to Harris’s Adam, if you will, it’s a shame that her time on screen is fairly limited in comparison to the other key players.
Overall, Mother! is one of those rare films that I cannot say was bad, but I can say that I absolutely hated. Religious allegory and overly self indulgent filmmaking just aren’t my bag, but for those who like that sort of cinematic challenge, I’m sure you will find something in the film that I didn’t. With the mixed reviews already surfacing in the first few days of release, it’s certainly set to be one of the most divisive pictures of the year. As for giving it a second chance, no thank you, I don’t think I have the interest or energy to put myself through the experience again.