Mother! is the new film by the director of Black Swan. For most of the film’s runtime that felt like Darren Aronofsky’s most pertinent credit. Another tense psychological thriller that disturbs and puzzles. Then in the third act the film opens up and becomes something altogether more ambitious, reminiscent of The Fountain.
Mother! has already garnered a reputation for being very divisive and the 18 certificate certainly added to my anticipation. It’s become a very talked about film, which I feel was the intention of the director. However those expecting shocking moments of gore will likely be disappointed, as will those hoping to see a horror movie or even something with a straightforward narrative.
The film ostensibly follows Jennifer Lawrence’s Mother as she works on the remote house she shares with her husband Him, played by Javier Bardem. When two mysterious visitors arrive one day their lives are thrown into disarray. Soon the house and Mother’s emotional security are under threat.
The strongest feeling I had during the film was one of angst. The film has remarkably captured social anxiety; we constantly feel as though we’re trapped in this house with Mother, as the situation edges further and further out of control. Jennifer Lawrence’s performance is a huge part of this She visibly bristles as the frame closes in around her. I read later that a disproportionate amount of the film’s duration is taken up purely by Lawrence’s face. I didn’t notice this as she is so emotive that you aren’t seeing her face but rather the entire situation she is trapped in expressed through her. I never had to wonder what she was looking at, I felt it.
The supporting performances were also great. Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris are quietly menacing whilst great character actors stop in to give cameos. There’s a dream like quality to the film, which is most acute in the dialogue. It manifests as a childishness or bluntness to the way everyone acts. It’s never overstated or annoying, however, just deeply unsettling.
The surreal and absurdist elements feel like a deliberate attempt to confound those who wish to apply a straightforward interpretation. It’s a film that begs to be interpreted but never quantified. Symbolic totems such as the strange glass ornament in Him’s office or even the seemingly organic nature of the house just beg to be explained as they become the focus of the character’s actions, and as the film become more abstract you will find yourself searching for some kind of meaning to justify what is happening to this character you care so much about.
The film will mean different things to different people. For me it feels like an exploration of the frustrations of trying to have personal relationships with people when you are a public figure, specifically a creative talent who is venerated by many, hated by others, but is always the centre of some strong emotions from strangers. Javier Bardem’s Him is a poet who seems to find himself trapped in this cyclical relationship pattern where the faces change but the pain will always be the same.
I’ve much more to say about what the film meant to me and how all the stranger moments feed into it but ultimately I don’t want to spoil any more of it, nor risk for a moment imposing my opinion of it onto someone yet to form their own. Articles shall be written. It’s a jigsaw puzzle of a film, but the pieces will never fit. It’s an abstract expression of anxiety and fear and loneliness and paranoia. It’s one of the most unique and affecting movies of the year.
5 / 5
Paul Salt is the co-host of One Good Thing.