Prove your humanity: 4   +   4   =  

mother! is a hard film to describe.

Ostensibly, it’s about a pair of newly-weds who have just moved into a huge house that’s in dire need of restoration. The renovations become the responsibility of the wife (Jennifer Lawrence), whilst her poet husband (Javier Bardem) gets on with his writing.

All is well between the two until they get a knock on the door, and the husband invites a stranger (Ed Harris) into their home. Whilst the stranger is nice enough, he will not leave, and neither will his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) after she joins him. As the number of uninvited guests continues to grow, the wife becomes more and more agitated at her husband’s refusal to throw them out. It isn’t long before the house is consumed by chaos.

It is a film about these newly-weds, and their horrendous houseguests. And it’s about a lot more than that.

Darren Aronofsky’s seventh feature film is a complex, sometimes mystifying work that lends itself to a whole lot of varying interpretations. Some have opined that it’s a biblical allegory, others think it is an environmentalist cri de coeur, or has more to do with the relationship between men and women. The sheer number of potential readings make mother! a prime candidate for the most re-watchable film of 2017, although there are certain terrifying scenes that one might be reluctant to experience again.Whilst people may be split on what mother! actually means, the quality of the acting is inarguable. Yet again Jennifer Lawrence is phenomenal. It’s a gruelling part, and she puts everything into it, anchoring the mayhem with a performance that is by turns ferocious and achingly vulnerable. Besides Lawrence, it’s wonderful to see Javier Bardem in a film worthy of his estimable talents – he’s not appeared in anything good since 2012’s Skyfall. Then there’s Michelle Pfeiffer, who eats up her malevolent, ice queen role with palpable delight. The capacious cast also features Ed Harris, Domhnall Gleeson and Kristen Wiig.

Throughout his movie, Aronofsky keeps a tight grip on pacing and tone. mother! escalates stealthily. It’s in no hurry to rush to the nightmarish conclusion. Early scenes, shared dialogue between Lawrence and Pfeiffer or Lawrence and Bardem, are just as chillingly effective as the third-act hellscape.

Talking of the hellscape, it’s worth mentioning the violence that occurs at the end of mother!, which is horrific and monstrous, and very hard to watch. It isn’t gratuitous; whichever way you read the film, the two acts of violence have a definite point to make. But that doesn’t make them any less distressing, so tread carefully if you’re likely to be upset by such things.

mother! is not a film that everyone will enjoy. Between the allegorical narrative and the brutal violence, there is plenty here to put people off. But if you have a strong stomach, and are willing to follow Aronofsky into some exceedingly dark places, you’ll be rewarded with one of the most fearless, daring films of the last decade.

★★★★

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