Film Review: mother! (USA, 2017) will test even the most stern of viewers

Where does one even begin to describe the demented deliciousness that is mother!?  Despite the film’s rather studio-heavy calibre of talent on board, Darren Aronofsky‘s latest cinematic insanity is anything but an audience-friendly affair.  The mysterious marketing campaign has wound up viewer interest (and rightfully so), and I would wager many will be entering theatres under the falsest of pretences, but that is all part of mother!‘s twisted plan – to lure you in, only to strike you down when you least expect it.

I’ll admit this is one of the toughest films I have ever had to review, as detailing anything remotely specific has the potential to ruin the experience that is witnessing this bold film.  The basis of the plot is simple – a loving couple (Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem) have their tranquil existence upset by the appearance of mysterious strangers (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) who come to stay at their house – and for the majority of mother!‘s running time, the film appears to be staying mostly on course; there’s a theatricality to the performances and dialogue that may throw traditional audiences off, but the delivery from all involved makes it feel alarmingly organic.

As to be expected from an Aronofsky picture, nothing is ever as it seems.  Metaphorical imagery runs rampant, one person’s understanding of events will differ to another, and the descent into madness for its protagonist will test even the most stern of viewers; I dare say the film’s unbridled climax will at once upset, challenge and anger its respective audience.  This is a slow-burn picture that clearly finds delight in torturing willing participants, and I would argue that no other film this year will agonise both its characters and audience in such a visceral way.

Much has been said about Lawrence’s pairing with Bardem, and though they don’t look naturally matched (and Harris’s unnamed  doctor even makes a crack that he assumed the two were daughter and father as opposed to a married couple) the chemistry between the two is believable, an additive that proves all the more viable on Lawrence’s end as she appears to constantly crave Bardem’s approval.  The vagueness surrounding Bardem’s character is intentional, but the actor’s volatile approach makes him all the more intriguing, whilst Lawrence is essentially never off-camera, with long tracking shots weaving in and out framing the actress either from behind or in extreme close-up; it’s the most vulnerable the actress has ever been on-screen.

As much as this is Lawrence’s film though, it’s Pfeiffer that leaves the largest impression.  Slinking around with little care for those around her, claws out as she sips on booze and pursing those lips ready to sting at any given moment, this is the boldest role the actress has been afforded in years, and if there’s any performance that deserves to be singled out come award season, it’s hers.

Likely to be appreciated by Aronofsky devotees and reviled by mainstream audiences, mother! isn’t a film someone watches to enjoy.  Like the majority of the director’s back catalogue, this is a work of art that demands respect regardless of how one individual reacts to it.

Review Score: FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

mother! hit cinemas tomorrow, September 14th