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Review by Karis King
“For too long we have been taking, and the Earth has been giving. But that free-for-all, that all-you-can-eat buffet, it’s over. The salad bar is closed.” – Darren Aronofsky
It comes as no surprise that this surreal and poetic allegory forms the twelfth feature film by Aronofsky. Mother! blends together the disorientating dream logic of Black Swan and the religious narrative of Noah, creating a true work of art which is more concerned with meaning and visual beauty than linear plot.
On the surface, Mother! tells the tale of a young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) who lives with her husband (Javier Bardem) in a large and beautiful, yet eerie Victorian house in the middle of nowhere. The oft-controlling husband is a frustrated poet who can’t seem to nurture either his marriage or his poetry. The desperate wife, who seems unable to step outside the home, dedicates her days to rebuilding and decorating the once burned house piece by piece. She undergoes some serious neglect from the poet, who is too concerned with the need to create and be loved, although her complete adoration appears to go unnoticed. She endures a nightmarish invasion of space and privacy, as the poet welcomes uninvited guests into their idyllic home where they once harmoniously co-existed. From here, everything spirals out of control in a way which cannot be described and should simply be observed.
It is not always sensible to try and make ‘sense’ of films of this ilk, but as obscure and complex as it may be, it is clear that Mother! is heavily centred around two main extended metaphors: Jennifer Lawrence’s character is mother Earth (linking to the house, which represents the environment) whilst Javier Bardem’s poet is God. Leaving the characters nameless was an effective decision, making their purpose as symbols apparent. These messages are unsurprising coming from Aronofsky, who is a staunch environmentalist and an atheist. Whilst Aronofsky has never been one to shy away from offering his opinion on controversial topics, Mother! covers religion, pollution, overpopulation, gender politics and the media. Towards the end of the film, Aronofsky repeatedly assaults the senses, slapping the viewer in the face with vicious metaphors in the most fantastic way.
Mother! is definitely one to watch at the cinema, should the opportunity arise, or at the very least with the volume high and lights switched off. Its groaning, breathing and creaking soundscape is a welcome substitute for the musical score which Aronofsky and composer, Johann Johannson, decided to omit. These noises give life to the house, mimicking the sounds you might expect from the depths of the human body. The intelligent sound design, combined with the movement-heavy camerawork, places the viewer amidst the action, with whispers seeming to creep around faraway corners.
This truly compelling performance by Jennifer Lawrence will have you feeling stressed and on edge throughout most of the duration, and mentally exhausted by the end. This is exactly what pushes the film beyond escapist entertainment and provides a sweat-inducing workout for the intellectual and artistically minded. Mother! is well worth the discomfort and truly unforgettable.