Darren Aronofsky is a singular visionary in the pantheon of technically and narratively recalcitrant filmmaking. And his newest think-piece, mother!, might be his most daring and controversial work yet: seeing as this is the same man behind the distressing anti-drug drama Requiem for a Dream, this couldn’t be a more alarming feat.
However, with such narrative experimentalism comes the necessity of going in blind: it helps that the marketing for mother! has been both surreptitious and elusive in its meaning. So, all I can say about the film is that it involves an unnamed couple, played by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, who are met with increasingly confusing and disturbing events that threaten their tranquil, domestic lifestyle.
So, if I cannot discuss the intricacies of the plot, how can I prepare you for what is to come? Well, what I can say is that no amount of research or preparation could compose you for the cinematic experience that Aronofsky has created for us. The nature of the secrecy is to enable us, as audience members, to interpret the film as we see fit. A film steeped in metaphysical and philosophical allegory, it takes any other witness to disrupt your interpretation, flipping it on its head and making you wonder just what it all meant.
It is because of this that I implore you to take a trip to see it. In this era of films that aim for nothing more than the biggest explosions, the grandest effects displays and the largest box office draw, it is refreshing to have a film test us on a cognitive and philosophical level. The experience could affirm principles that you already hold: more probable is that it reveals a cynical or unsettling side of human nature and your alignment with said view. There’s a biblical angle to be taken, a Marxist allegory on the alienation of material creation vs. artistic creation to be read between the lines, a Lacanian depiction of the psychological split of the Imaginary and the Real to be uncovered and deliberated upon. Even something as unusually relevant as the nature of celebrity and its destructive effects upon the individual, or the rise of conflict on behalf of that hugely desirable commodity that is oil, all can be applied to Aronofsky’s material, making it a truly versatile and metamorphic product.
It helps that Aronofsky has been able to assemble such a terrific band of talent to help bring his alarming vision to life. Firstly, there are the performances, which prove to be extremely successful in luring us in and keeping us invested. Jennifer Lawrence, an actress I’ve often found to seem a little uninterested and distant within her more popular fare (The Hunger Games, X-Men Apocalypse), seems to be ironically comfortable in this difficult role. Exhibiting a whole spectrum of emotions, and pulling her character through an arc that leads into some uneasy scenarios, Lawrence is the essential component to the film’s success as we identify all too exhaustively with her growing madness. Furthermore, Bardem elicits his trademark, sinister quietude to great effect here as the narrative unfolds: as Lawrence interrogates the meaning of his actions, so do we.
Additionally, cinematographer Matthew Libatique, an Aronofsky regular, delivers some stellar work, with an ambitious reliance upon close-ups, as well as a fluid movement that never allows us to settle into our surroundings. The camera is always on the move with Lawrence, looking through each room and practically begging us to look for details to help tell this most unusual of tales.
However, it ultimately comes down to Aronofsky, who clearly had a lot to say and decided upon an unconventional and controversial way of conveying it. His screenplay is hugely ambitious and asks a lot of us. Yet one cannot criticise him for this request: he never assumes that we cannot make our own definition of what the images upon the screen mean. This kind of trust in audience intelligence is unprecedented and must be applauded.
What I will say, however, is that at times Aronofsky takes his vision to extreme lengths, the film becoming somewhat abrasive in its final moments. While this last act features enormously evocative imagery, delving into difficult subject matter, it is hard not to find it a little hard to digest, especially when some of this imagery is either grotesque or deeply rooted in a cynical and violent view of humanity. How you feel about the film will depend upon your tolerance levels for this kind of storytelling: as a filmgoer who has found such unsettling films as Julia Ducournau’s Raw and Lars von Trier’s Antichrist intriguing to say the least, I was engaged with Aronofsky’s narrative through to its bitter end, but you may not.
It can seem like I am deterring you from giving mother! a chance with this warning. However, I still implore you to watch it, as it provides that rare case of a film sparking conversation, critical or not. The cinematic form can often get misused for commercial efforts only, leaving it lagging in terms of serious consideration. However, it relies upon anomalies such as mother! to keep the discussion flowing, increasing its value in terms of relaying information about our way of life and how we feel about it.
In spite of its distressing moments, Aronofsky’s film is one of the most unique examples of these interrogatory experiences, and will leave you exhausted, enthralled and maybe even infuriated.