By Roshan Chandy (Nottingham)
“The most controversial movie since A Clockwork Orange” is what critics will have you believe defines Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!. Regardless of whether such a sweeping statement turned out to be true, I couldn’t help, but leap with excitement at the sound of it.
Why? Because it suggests an experience so bat-s**t crazy you’ll either want to wrap it close to your chest in mad love or consider hurling yourself from the cinema balcony just to escape it’s poisonous grasp!
Boy, believe me, it’ll be years to come before a movie promotes quite the love or hate reaction of Mother!.
My own reaction lies pretty far on the former although I almost feel bad for adoring it as much as I do!
Set in a middle-class suburbia of sorts, the film begins life along the lines of a home invasion horror flick. Jennifer Lawrence is the young, beautiful housewife with a handsome Spanish husband in the form of the ridiculously smooth Javier Bardem.
In many ways, they represent the ideal couple living the most idyllic life surrounded by glistening green grass and leafy trees.
Perhaps too ideal as along comes knocking a considerably overdressed older couple (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer).
Posing with some of the smiley intensity of Jehovah’s Witness/Mormon door-knockers, they appear as friendly as friendly gets; charming Bardem’s macho man of the house into allowing them to stay.
Inevitably, such smiliness hides sinister secrets; unveiling a cult tucked away for centuries…
What follows boldly breaks the boundaries of “mainstream cinema”; bombarding its path between clowning surrealism and bewildering black comedy as if it were one gigantic delusion.
Picture the combined experience of being drunk and stoned simultaneously for 2 hours while blurting out Industrial Rock at volumes of over 500! That’s Mother! for ya’!
With cinematography almost entirely resembling one long, lingering, cut-free camera take, Aronofsky lets the hallways of the film’s central house do the talking.
Dividing attention between POV close-ups of our central character’s angst-ridden movements between rooms and mise en scenes cluttered by famous faces, he swirls the camera chaotically over chandeliers, cabinets and corridors; crafting a dizzying sensation of paranoia and psychological pain.
In this dimly-lit mansion populated by uninvited guests, audiences might easily expect endless jump scares. Yet The Conjuring this isn’t. Rather the sensory film-maker narrows in on the claustrophobia of this enclosed environment before unleashing the madness inside as being every bit as large as horrors of the outdoors.
Following the missteps of his bloated biblical epic Noah (2014), the film sees Director Aronofsky retaining that previous film’s religious underbelly yet injects much of the maddening hysteria seen in his brilliant Black Swan (2010).
An open Atheist, Aronofsky isn’t afraid of layering his production with potentially blasphemous imagery. Specifically, this resonates in a truly horrifying late scene which – quite literally – rips apart symbolisms of Jesus’s birth and cries out for controversy within the Catholic Church.
“Conservative” is certainly not a word you’d associate with Mother!. Something which stretches far beyond faith alone.
As it rages into scenes of violent lootings and destructions of material possessions, the film manifests itself as an anguished expression of a Liberal artist envisioning the prospect of a world thrown into anarchy by human greed that has exploited our environment in pursuit of consumer culture.
Keeping things measured, however, is yet another powerhouse performance from the unstoppable Jennifer Lawrence. As witnessed in Natalie Portman’s histrionic turn in Black Swan, Aronofsky pushes every actor to their wildest limits. Something which Lawrence more than happily commits herself to!
As the film’s titular “mother”, she is a seething force. A metaphor for Mother Nature observing the religious fanaticism of mankind with disgust that – over the film’s course – transforms her innocent beauty into frothing anger and into an agent of destruction.
She may routinely wow awards ceremonies with her astonishing acting, but Lawrence has never deserved a Best Actress nod more than she does here. It’s impossible we’ll see a more versatile performance all year!
Despite its wide release and populist publicity, Mother! may never appeal to a casual ticket-buying audience. The majority of whom will likely find it pretentious, disgusting and deeply offensive.
For myself, however, those horrific adjectives are the film’s greatest charm. A “mainstream movie” that isn’t afraid of the dark…
Mother: We spend all our time here. I want to make a paradise.
Him: She redid all of it, every last detail. Well she breathed life back into every room.
Mother: Are you happy?
Him: I love you.