This review contains spoilers.
In preparation for viewing a film that has so desperately divided film critics all over the world, I sat down to watch Requiem for a Dream. A reminder that, not so long ago, Darren Aronofksy could move me to tears; frighten me; leave me wanting more. I tried to avoid reading or watching any criticism of his latest opus in order to go in with a clear head. It didn’t help.
What’s so frustrating about mother! is that it starts off with a lot of promise, particularly owing to the utterly brilliant performance offered up by Michelle Pfeiffer. The plotline is simple: a poet (Javier Bardem) seeks to write his next best-seller whilst his doe-eyed wife (Jennifer Lawrence) attempts to turn their creaking, damaged house into a home. Mistaking their home for a B&B, Ed Harris arrives one night, seeking refuge. A day later, his wife (Pfeiffer) shows up.
The film begins well; slowly disorientating the viewers (there are a lot of spiral staircases in that house) and never truly letting go of this weirdly unsettling feeling that seems to pervade both the action and the dialogue. Who are these strangers, acting so entitled in someone else’s home? Why are they cold and bitter towards Lawrence but hang on Bardem’s every word. Michelle Pfeiffer steals every scene she is in; that icy cold stare will haunt me for days to come.
The tension that is crafted for the first hour of the film is almost unbearable at times. It really will leave you squirming in your seat and completely empathising with the flowing-haired, barefoot, ethereal Jennifer Lawrence. You can feel her utter frustration whilst trying to maintain a veneer of welcoming and good manners.
It all starts to get a bit ridiculous when more and more strangers start to turn up at the house and act in the same selfish, entitled way as Lawrence’s original, unwanted house guests. And, it’s when Lawrence’s character becomes pregnant, that Aronofsky stars to really hammer home the metaphors and Biblical allegories.
If you hadn’t worked it out by now, this film uses the story of Adam and Eve (and subsequent generations of selfish humans) to recount some weird, environmental tale of how we have abused Mother Earth for millennia. Bardem – as ‘Him’ – is a creator, welcoming strangers into his Paradise. Lawrence represents how we have made ourselves at home on Earth – which has resulted in a lifetime of wars, suffering, death, sacrifice and natural disasters.
Sadly, Aronofksy chooses to – pardon the pun – labour the point. The metaphors are clear from fairly early on in the film and he chooses to spend the last half hour piling on one visual cliche after another. He even manages to get his metaphors in a muddle – Jennifer Lawrence seems to switch from representing Mother Earth to the Virgin Mary.
What’s slightly more interesting is what appears to be a comment on the cult of celebrity. At one point, Bardem is giving out blessings to his fanatical followers. He adores their attention and adulation – as he knows he needs that to build his career – and even offers to forgive their most heinous acts in order to appear benevolent. Lawrence’s character, on the other hand, wishes for privacy and a proper home.
The last half hour of the film seems to me to be utterly self-indulgent and you can’t help but draw comparisons between Bardem’s egotistical ‘creator’ and Aronofsky himself. mother! feels like it’s trying to be deep and ponderous, but really it’s just a collection of Biblical stories thrown together with an aggressive environmental message. You really can’t miss the points Aronosky is trying to make because they are just so incredibly obvious.
mother! is a film of two parts. Had it kept to the carefully crafted tension of the first instances, it may well have been a very good film. As it stands, it all gets a bit messy towards the end – much like its source material.