I’ve made it clear in the past that only a few films by Darren Aronofsky have found favour with me; Pi (1998), Requiem for a Dream (2000) and The Wrestler (2008). His style is certainly very bold and different from the rest of the crowd and for that I do respect him, but other times, his films do push the mark a bit too far. His latest work mother! has done exactly that, but unlike any other film he has done, this was never designed to be thoroughly entertaining; this was designed, to mess with your mind in the weirdest and controversial way possible.
Where to start with this film? Well, like with any film, the story is the best place to begin. Very little details were given in regards to what the film is about, a mysterious layer of secrecy has surrounded this film ever since it was conceived. It follows the story of a young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) who lives a peaceful and relaxed life with her husband (Javier Bardem), a poet who currently has writers block. One day, an unnamed couple (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) show up unannounced and the mother’s tranquil existence is under threat and pretty soon, she begins to realise the true extent of increasing outside interference and the man she is married to. The script was written in just 5 days and it begs the question; what goes on in Darren Aronofsky’s head? This is a thinking man’s film with complex ideas and if you go in without that in mind, you won’t know what happens at all. But then again, that has been the case with many of his films and like with Black Swan (2010) and Requiem for a Dream, this pushes things a bit too far.
There are scenes in this film that won’t sit well with anyone at all, in fact, when I went to see it, some people got up and left after seeing what happens. It is clearly a love or hate film, and weirdly, I really like it. I like a film with interpretability and mother! delivers that in every single frame. Darren Aronofsky love to manipulate the audience and he has made a story that twists and turns in every shape imaginable; with his distinct visual style and bold ideas, this will certainly be the most talked about film of the year, whether you like it or not. Jennifer Lawrence delivers a rather remarkable performance; displaying innocence and delicacy yet at the same time, maintaining a level of suspicion and anger towards outsiders. Javier Bardem delivers another memorable performance as the soft, polite and secretive poet who seems to be as big a mystery to the events of the film than we previously thought. And then you have the supporting performance of Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, both truly Oscar worthy, commanding all of the uncertainty, friendliness and patronising that is to be expected by ‘guests’.
Already, it appears that this film is going to be memorable for its story and acting, even though it feels rather disjointed and difficult to comprehend, and difficult to stomach in some audience’s cases. Like with many of Darren Aronofsky films, he employs the use of CGI and visual effects, but not to the degree that he went to in Noah (12A). He uses them for some rather disturbing and hard-to-read metaphors; a beating, withering heart hidden in the walls of the house, bleeding light bulbs, blood that eats through the floor, strange crystal objects, it is insane, yet eerily beautiful to watch.
This is a world run by metaphors and symbols; nothing is every truly clear to the audience and that has been the case with every film that Darren Aronofsky has done. More than that, the atmosphere to his films are very similar. Nature is ever present in every single frame of this film and as Jennifer Lawrence starts to lose her mind, sounds start to become more surreal and terrifying such as random white noise, the shudder of the house and bangs coming from unfriendly walls. For the most part, these sounds create the perfect atmosphere for the story, but they have a much more important role than you think.
There isn’t a single ounce of original music in this film. Initially, composer Jóhann Jóhannsson had created an entire score for the film, but when he and Darren Aronofsky synced it up, they agreed that it wouldn’t work. So, the sound effects have to take over from the music of the film. Pings and white noise have to fill in for the notes and tones that would be there to drive the story forward, so it is difficult for the audience to follow the pace of the film as a result. In many ways, it works a bit like The Hurt Locker (2009) or No Country for Old Men (2007); very little music is featured, only during the credits or in club scenes do you see any sign that music is here, it is so that the audience can focus on the story and characters more, and to convey a sense of realism.
It does seem odd that Darren Aronofsky would take such a gamble on no music, but then again, I don’t know how his mind works. The true instrument of how the film makes the audience feel strange and uncertain, is actually the look and feel of the film. The entire film is centred around this very old house in the middle of nowhere, and I do mean in the middle of nowhere. They built this rather civil-war-era house in the middle of a field and you know what, it is creepy just looking at it like that. The inside is full of spectacular detail from the veneer of the floorboards, the texture of the paint, the crumbling walls of the foundation to the remnants of previous burn marks underneath it all. It is beautiful to look at, and like with every Darren Aronofsky film, it is beautifully shot as well.
I think we have a hot contender for the cinematography Oscar here. Regular collaborator Matthew Libatique has worked with Darren for the best part of 20 years and is still producing remarkably different and radical cinematography to this day. Shot on unconventional Super 16mm film, mother! has a certain, gritty nature to the images it shows and thanks to an abundance of natural lighting, this film really is at one with nature. One of the most important tools in this film however is the editing from Andrew Weisblum which manages to keep the pace of the film ticking over in the exact ‘frequency’ that the characters are; disjointed reality and slow and sub verse are just some of the techniques used to portray the look of mother!
The final part to achieving what can only be described as an iconic look for the film is the way the characters look. Jennifer Lawrence throughout the film wears very delicate and light-coloured clothing, denoting a sense of fragility and beauty all at the same time. whereas Javier Bardem has a more artistic and somewhat rugged appearance, mirroring his characters profession and his status as a man. There are subtle hints and metaphors strung all over this film, almost in the same way that Gothicism works in literature or poetry, think about that when you watch it.
mother! is clearly a love or hate film. I am certain that it is going to upset a lot of people going to see it, but if you like an intelligent and dark surreal story that isn’t from David Lynch, then this film is going to be something very special. It may not be perfect, but I can say with confidence that it is a film by Darren Aronofsky that I like…
I give this film a 7.5/10.