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Mother! (2017) written and directed by Darren Aronofsky

Intrusion into a marriage

Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem play an unnamed couple trying to recover their lives after their rural home caught fire. He is a writer who has found fresh inspiration from a mysterious crystal he found in the ruins. While he works on his latest manuscript, she repairs and redecorates the damaged building. However, she suffers from an unspecified illness and has to take a yellow powder in order to bring some hallucinations and dizzy spells under control.

One day a mysterious man who claims to be a doctor - played by Ed Harris - turns up at their front door. Javier’s character extends his hospitality to the man, but Jennifer’s has some visible misgivings, especially when - despite his profession - he smokes and is prone to coughing fits. Without consulting her, Javier’s character allows him to spend the night. He explains afterward that he is suffering from a terminal illness.

Things only become more creepy when this man’s wife (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) pops up at the front door. Her behaviour towards Jennifer’s character becomes increasingly invasive, and the latter makes it increasingly clear that both she and her husband are outstaying their welcome.

Watch a trailer:

…best not to go any further

The thing about Aronofsky’s Mother! is that it’s best not to give too much away when discussing the plot. My above synopsis makes it sound like a variant on Funny Games - when it ultimately turns out to be nothing like that. In fact, it ultimately bears scarcely any resemblance to any other film I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a lot). Unfortunately, as much as I want to champion a film for its originality, I don’t mean that in a good way.

The irony of it is that these early scenes are incredibly effective as drip-fed psychological horror. The film’s point of view is heavily centred around Jennifer Lawrence’s character in terms of both (literal) POV shots and close-ups of her increasingly anxiety-wracked face. Aronofsky builds up scares out of a procession of small annoyances and clever sound design that eschews overblown music in favour of cleverly-orchestrated off-screen sound effects.

The acting from the four main stars is top-notch. Javier Bardem is… well… Javier Bardem. He’s charming and sweet-natured at times, genuinely intimidating at other. Ed Harris turns in another veteran performance that shows him why he’s one of the finest character actors in Hollywood. However, it’s the main female stars who turn in the best work here. Michelle Pfeiffer is just perfect as one of those people whose is irritatingly brash and overbearing under the pretence of having the interest of others at heart. Lawrence is at the centre of the film and while her work her is not as showy as that of the others, she portrays the subtle displeasure and psychological deterioration of her character with a remarkably natural poise.

WTF is happening with this movie?

Poster for Darren Aronofsky's Mother!

As the film goes on, it becomes increasingly random and extreme, ultimately morphing into something quite different and far less successful. Blood eating through the floor in the manner of the film Alien. A creepy basement. Spew-producing gore. Come-and-go appearances by the Gleeson brothers (Domhnall and the less famous Brian) plus Kristen Wiig. Pregnancy. Religious and apocalyptic imagery. Burning flesh. It’s as if Aronofsky was mad keen on throwing all of these elements (and many more) into this movie and tying them together in whatever way he could.

It’s beautifully-directed and superbly-acted chaos, but chaos nonetheless. There is a large selection of themes that can be picked out of the wreckage: the propensity of humankind to love and hate equally, a marriage of fundamental incompatibility between an introvert and an extrovert, the creative and destructive nature of religion, the futility in trying to create order in the world, the inevitable metaphorical cycle of birth, death and rebirth. The problem is that it’s all being thrown at the viewer in one huge indigestible frenzy with no real grounding in a cohesive reality or story. It’s clear that a big statement is being made, but the manner of its choosing is unpleasant and pretentious.

I strongly suspect Mother! will go down in history as one of those “love it or loathe it” films. Quite a few critics have given it overwhelmingly positive reviews so far. Me? I suspect it’s a case of Emperor Aronofsky’s New Clothes.

Runtime: 121 mins

Dir: Darren Aronofsky

Script: Darren Aronofsky

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson, Kristen Wiig

Rating: ☆☆

Where is it showing in Edinburgh and Glasgow?

Click for showtimes:

Showtimes in Cameo Edinburgh

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