Where do you start? Well, let’s get it out of the way, mother! is exceptional and a true breath of fresh air. Frankly I was prepared to be unimpressed, weighing the film’s potential success against the impossibility of it being any better than the films that came before. Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler, Noah, Black Swan; all are excellent, and mother! must surely herald the end of one of the most consistent runs of form of any filmmaker since their debut.
Aranofsky’s latest sees him being the most Requiem since Requiem. Brutal and beautiful with some staggering performances and technical prowess they should be lining up to throw awards at, mother! is a devastating assault on apathy and ego. There is anger deep in the soul of mother!. An anger that fuelled it’s director. Here’s what Aranofsky had to say about the genesis of the film;
“It is a mad time to be alive. As the world population nears 8 billion we face issues too serious to fathom: Ecosystems collapse as we witness extinction at an unprecedented rate; Migrant crises disrupt governments; A seemingly schizophrenic U.S. helps broker a landmark climate treaty and months later withdraws; Ancient tribal disputes and beliefs continue to drive war and division; The largest iceberg ever recorded breaks off an Antarctic ice shelf and drifts out to sea. At the same time we face issues too ridiculous to comprehend: In South America tourists twice kill rare baby dolphins that washed ashore, suffocating them in a frenzy of selfies; Politics resembles sporting events; People still starve to death while others can order any meat they desire. As a species our footprint is perilously unsustainable yet we live in a state of denial about the outlook for our planet and our place on it. From this primordial soup of angst and helplessness, I woke up one morning and this movie poured out of me.”
He wrote mother! in five days.
Filmmakers so rarely get angry anymore. Even if they did, studios probably wouldn’t back them, so you have to tip your hat to Paramount who give Aranofksy, it would appear, free reign. And rightly so.
At the heart of it all stands Jennifer Lawrence, named Mother, who shows here that there is a performer under the A-Lister. There were signs of it in Winter’s Bone and Silver Lining’s Playbook, but never has she been as run ragged as she is here.
From the first frame to the last, she is pulled from pillar to post. The poor woman is essentially run ragged. She is never in control of her own life. She is never ever given a choice. Philip Messina’s design, the marital house, could be Mother’s body. It’s not hers. She has no say over who gets to be in it or what is to be done with it. The only thing she can really affect is how it looks.
Comparisons to Rosemary’s Baby are obvious, but mother! is less Polanski than it is Cassavetes and for this writer the film that hangs most over the first two acts is A Woman Under the Influence. The camera is strapped to Lawrence. She never leaves our sight, pulling us with her as she moves, glimpses of the eyes judging her, half seen moments as she passes rooms. The whole things revolves around her, but she’s powerless.
Javier Bardem, Mother’s husband, named Man represents one of the more intelligent approaches to the male condition in film probably ever. A man of passion and desire, yet riddled with the fear of unfulfilled legacy, he reaches to outsiders for validation at the expense of everything else.
It’s a masterpiece of the male mind and a tremendous insight into the masculine psyche. The balance of work and family, the inability to reconcile both and nothing ever being enough. The destructive nature of words and celebrity. It would be easy to make Man simply a monster. But like Mother! he is both a product an a victim. Of environment and of himself.
There are brilliant and ethereal turns from Domhnhall Gleeson and Ed Harris, but Michelle Pfeiffer excels in her position. She is both thorn in the side and existential guru and deserves to be in serious contention come award season.
To be noted, the sound design is incredible. Craig Henighan and his team have crafted such texture that it exceeds his past work. From plaster being mixed to bones breaking, walls shattering to the detail on each footstep, it’s a sonic rollercoaster that comes into it’s own in the final act with one of the greatest film sets of the year.
I couldn’t help but wonder if mother! is an atonement piece for Aranofsky’s own monster. Does he feel he could have done better in his previous relationships? We don’t need the answer to these, but as an audience we can relish in our luck that Aranofsky has the balls to ask them.
mother! is a delirious exercise in brilliance. It’s the most expressionist film since Caligari and proof undeniable that Aranofsky is simply one of the finest filmmakers of his generation. You deserve to see this film.