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Film Review: Mother!

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As the disquiet subsided in the moment Jennifer Lawrence esoterically uttered the words "I'll just get started on the apocalypse," I was, for the first time, convinced I understood where this already bizarre odyssey was ultimately heading. 

A mere handful of minutes later, Aronofsky's irreverent thriller had diced and pulped my assumption with such contemptuous vigour, I felt somewhat uncomfortable towards the notion that I'd thought I knew what was going on.

It explains why the acclaimed auteur remained so tight-lipped about the cloak-and-dagger nature of his latest work, Mother!, during the build-up to its tempestuously anticipated release. In contrast, as soon as the lights go down, Aronofsky somewhat audaciously deigns to play with fire, in a much more figurative sense than it may initially seem, with the enigmatic precursor to the film's title. 

Then we are cordially welcomed, by a series of glistening establishing shots, to the grand wooden mansion in which we will spend the entire duration of the film, and subsequently introduced to its two nameless proprietors. They are a young housewife (Lawrence), who spends her days working on restoring the house to its former glory, and her considerably older husband (Javier Bardem), who is a renowned poet.

He sits upstairs, battling his seemingly unbeatable writer’s block; while his wife goes about all of the daily necessities, occasionally wandering down to lend the briefest of hands before returning to his state of solitude. Until there comes a mysterious knock at the door, that is. Followed by another the very next day.

The former is courtesy of a man (Ed Harris) claiming to be a doctor in need of a place to stay for the night, while his kindly inquisitorial wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) is responsible for the latter. A pair whose continued presence in the house proves to be the catalyst for something far worse than the aforementioned “apocalypse.”

What transpires is a visceral, multi-faceted exploration of obsession. We witness how the woman's painstaking devotion to creating a paradise born out of disrepair takes its toll, in tandem with the gruelling task of enduring the one-sided relationship she shares with her husband.

When a film encompasses a narrative so raw in its composition, however, glimpses of sheer unadulterated beauty - akin to both Malick’s Days of Heaven, and von Trier’s Melancholia, with just a dash of Antichrist - inevitably arrive as timely welcome accessories to this scripturally-charged descent into the depths of disparity.

Aronofosky's adept methods of moving the camera throughout the film aid this heightened reality that gradually eats away at the pure fabric of the false utopian ideals at play, especially in the case of Lawrence. While we begin by following her as a tacitly attentive inquiring eye, it doesn’t take long before it turns into a borderline abusive intrusion of her personal space, neatly juxtaposing the cerebral suffocation she experiences as she haplessly fights to sustain the essence of her crumbling world.

It's this that makes Lawrence's youthfully demure turn so endearing, which makes it all the more troubling once her character begins to relinquish those traits in favour of a necessitous instinctual fervour. The commitment the actress imparts during the latter half, and even more so the climactic scenes, is tantamount to the exceptional quality of her performance - and best preempted with an expectant grimace.

Much the same goes for Bardem, too. Hints of his past roles seep through into that haunting opacity behind which he displays his character's desperately impetuous motivations.

What Aronofsky has conjured up with Mother! is nothing short of jaw-dropping. Whether or not you're someone who would follow that term with an expression of distaste or adoration, this is a filmmaker in a league of his own specification. Ironically profane, aurally pulsating, and emotionally draining, it contains everything its creator meticulously intended, along with a whole lot more waiting with bated breath to creep up from between the cracks. 

Mother! is out now, distributed by Paramount Pictures.  

 

 

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