♦ Tripwire’s contributing writer JAMES DC takes a look at Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!, out from Friday in UK cinemas…
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer
In cinemas from Friday.
So, it was with a fair amount of trepidation that I entered into this latest venture by Aronofsky. There has been a lot of hype over this one. ‘Big’ stars too. But surely it wouldn’t be as bad as the execrable, gruesome Noah? Well, it starts off as an atmospheric, intriguing – if sometimes cliched – haunted house-type horror, but ends up sinking into a too-obvious, rather pompous sociopolitical fable. So, a bit of a mix, really, but more on the negative slant.
Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem play a married couple, Grace and Eli, who live in a huge, old mansion house in the country. He is a middle aged, famous author, struggling with writer’s block, she a young woman who is trying to get pregnant by him. A few weird and spooky incidents transpire, then a host of odd strangers start to turn up, out of the blue, arrogantly intruding on their privacy. Soon, there is a whole dysfunctional family moving in, fighting with one another and disrupting their lives. Grace wants them all out, but Eli is finding the bizarre company an inspiration to his creativity. As the conflict, and tensions rise, Grace inextricably succumbs to a supernatural form of ‘immaculate conception’ pregnancy, and more and more surreal situations manifest themselves; from a cult of rabid fans who worship at the feet of Eli, their ‘messiah’, to a full-on civil war of extreme violence, in and around the house, plus various ghostly apparitions, until the cataclysmic, Freudian ‘birth-death’ finale.
Taken on their own, there are a few scenes and concepts here of feral imaginative power. Cinematically, Mother! is often startling, throwing incredible imagery at the viewer in a maelstrom of intense, explosive happenings. The camerawork, editing and special effects are in-your-face and highly stylish. Quite a lot of the ideas, in an ‘individual’ sense, are deeply symbolic, multi-layered and potent. In a true stream-of-consciousness manner, seemingly much can be gleaned or interpreted from the enigmatic events on offer, Aronofsky obviously indebted to such otherworldly, disturbing classics as Luis Buñuel‘s The Exterminating Angel (1962), Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), as well as a parade of more mainstream horror movies, and their tropes. The mysterious story draws us in, the acting is fine, and it all seems to play out ‘smoothly’, at first. But, when you step back from all the bombast and scrape off the surface thrills to delve a bit deeper, the basic premise is laden down and smothered with pious and unsubtle messages on everything from the mental/physical pains of motherhood (who’d have thunk it?!), the struggle of the creative process, to the trappings of celebrity and narcissism, and the current global problems of religious/ethnic division, violence and war; it all becomes far too ‘obvious’, self-reflexive and outré, to the point where it negates itself in a welter of hysterical self-indulgence. Eventually, you become tired of the next big ‘surprise’, and any real meaning drains away as it starts to feel like a basic 101 induction into flashy, surrealism-lite allegory, with lashings of mystical life-lessons, maaaan.
By the end, I couldn’t make out the difference between the conceited, narcissistic, irritating characters on screen, and the smug, spoiled actors playing said roles. ‘But that’s the whole point!’ I hear the director cry. Yes, sure, I am all for metatextual, discursive depth, but compulsively vomiting all of your comfy, Hollywood-induced peccadilloes and neuroses onto the screen, without much rhyme or reason or editorial restraint, does not necessarily a great movie make. So, a nice attempt at a bizarre, semi-autobiographical dream-fugue, but it ultimately falls down under its own portentous weight.