mother! - you won't see another film like this again
Here's a film you don't see every day.
Darren Aronofsky, who famously directed Black Swan, has brought us another mind-twisting, psychological work of horror. Or is it? Maybe it's a thriller? Maybe it's a film about mental breakdown? I do know mother! will stubbornly refuse to be categorised and will divide audiences: some will be lost and some will see it as an allegory. What starts off as an idyll turns into suspense, then an overwhelming barrage of the senses followed by despair.
The opening scene features a house recovering from a devastating fire until the camera settles on the form of Jennifer Lawrence who wakes up to find her partner, Javier Bardem missing from the bed. We learn later he is a poet. As he struggles with lack of inspiration, Lawrence sets about refurbishing their house, which is evidently a passion of hers. She feels a connection to the house and in a series of never-explained sequences, appears to experience the literal beating heart of the house. The exact nature of their relationship is never fully revealed until the end of the film. Their life is interrupted by the arrival of Ed Harris and subsequently Michelle Pfeiffer (in a delicious, over the top, Cruella deVille performance).
It is at this point one notices the lack of names in the film. From beginning to end, no one's name is mentioned. This adds to the unnerving and eventually de-humanising aspects of the story. This is a conscious decision by the writer and director and it works on a subconscious level, much as Kubrick's set for the Overlook Hotel sought to confuse viewers of The Shining.
Harris and Pfeiffer (who are apparent fans of the poet) are invited to stay in the house, at the behest of Bardem and to the dismay of Lawrence. The tension starts to build as the invited guests start to take Lawrence and the house for granted. Lawrence tries to get them to leave without success. Things take a turn when Harris and Pfeiffer's sons arrive to argue over their parents will. The brothers, played by real-life brothers Domhnall and Brian Gleeson proceed to fight and tragedy ensues. The film continues to descend into an assault on the senses, almost to the point of farce but it never quite crosses that line. Instead it infused me with a bewilderment and a dread of cults. Act Three is difficult to watch as it turns in to a house of horrors, a real Grand Guignol.
Throughout, Matthew Libatique's camera focusses on Lawrence's face, rarely leaving it, suggesting we are seeing things from her perspective. Unusually for Lawrence, normally used to empowering roles in her films, we see her helpless and despairing. Bardem remains a mystery to us, right up to the final frame of the film. Harris, Pfeiffer and the Gleesons are all spot on. Hats off to casting team.
This is not a timid film. There is subtext built upon subtext. You will not see anything like this in cinemas today and I guess for some time to come and for that, it is welcome.