mother! review

Darren Aronofsky is, and always has been, a divisive filmmaker, and mother! is possibly his most divisive work yet. I've always found him to be a superb director, but I really only like about half his movies – I adored Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler and Black Swan, while I just couldn't get on with Pi, The Fountain and Noah (not that I am saying any of those are bad movies; they're not). But mother! – with wonderful performances from Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer and especially Jennifer Lawrence – is a film that I simply can't decide if I like or not. But it's a truly stunning, fascinating, infuriating, engrossing and downright disturbing piece of work.

mother! begins sedately, with a married couple – Lawrence and Bardem, with their characters listed in the credits simply as Mother and Him – renovating a home in the country that was recently destroyed in a fire. He is a renowned writer and poet struggling with writer's block, while she is making all the decisions about how the house is being remodeled. Their peace is interrupted when a "lost" stranger (Harris, known only as Man) arrives, claiming to be a surgeon about to start work at the local hospital. He's later joined by his wife (Pfeiffer, aka Woman) and then their sons (Brian and Domhnall Gleeson). and from here, things start to get very weird.

On its theatrical release, mother! certainly divided audiences and critics alike. Many praised it for its audacity and refusal to offer an easy explanation for what it's about, while others called it stupid, messy, awful, perplexing, absurd and "the worst film ever made". It's even (wrongly, in my opinion) been nominated for some Razzie awards. It's certainly not an easy watch, but it's rewarding if you stick with it an pay attention.

So, just what is mother! all about? The general consensus (and one that I can certainly go along with) is that it's a religious metaphor. He is God; Mother is the Earth (or Mother nature?); Man and Woman are humanity (Adam and eve?); their two sons are Cain and Abel. And as the film progresses and gets madder and madder – descending into a somewhat chaotic final act – the symbolism gets stronger and stronger.

Of course, that's just one reading of it; this is a film that is sure to mean something different to every viewer (some see it as a feminist tale; others as an environmental allegory). But however you interpret it, mother! is an intense experience, but it's definitely a film that is worth watching (more than once) and is one of those films you will want to see without knowing too much about it. The one thing that you do need to know is that this is very much Lawrence's film – she's in almost every scene (often in close-up) , and her character is often as puzzled about what's taking place as the audience. As you'd expect from Aronofsky, the direction is sublime and the cinematography by long-time collaborator Matthew Libatique is perfect. And it goes without saying that the performances from Bardem, Harris, Pfeiffer et al are spot on.

mother! is dark, daring film-making that is certainly not to all tastes, but it's a film that is definitely worth seeing if only to make your own mind up. For me, it's an infuriating masterpiece, but one I am sure to return to again and again.

EXTRAS: Disappointingly sparse, it must be said – just two (quite good) behind-the-scenes featurettes: mother! The Downward Spiral (29:51), with some fascinating insights into the thinking behind the film and its production; and The Makeup FX of mother! (6:45)

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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