This is a hard film to describe or write about without letting some information out of the bag, plus it should make this a more interesting read!
Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is a film that I wasn’t sure what to make of after coming out of the screening. Shock? Awe? Numbness? On further reflection there are undertones of Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence’s relationship being that of Mother Nature (Earth) and Creator (God) in a constant battle for balance. Javier Bardem as the poet is eager for attention, eager for adulation and crowds to come and put him on a pedestal, Jennifer Lawrence only wants peace and quiet and to be with her love, alone in their house that she has so lovingly restored. What we get is an ever building progression of mother losing control of her house, at the instigation of the poet as the ever growing stream of people enter the house and defile it and ignore the warnings of mother.
The first people arrive, are invited in to inhabit their space but are most definitely not welcome (in the eyes of mother) are Ed Harris as the doctor and Michelle Pfeiffer as his wife. These two have the air of something not being right about them and it becomes evident that they are not going to be controlled, they won’t listen mother and won’t leave. Here is where the first real biblical theme kicks in: Them having sex breaks the innocence of the house, their sons who arrive later in the midst of fighting and leading to one killing the other. This taints the house, being forever marked with the blood spilt. The parallels between the original stories of Adam and Eve and their sons Cain and Abel is all to apparent and this would point you toward this house being Eden (or at least the Earth in it’s early days). The subsequent funeral for the son leads to a larger, uncontrollable gathering crowd that again doesn’t listen to mother, as she tries to protect her house, and their careless regard causes some damage to the house. Tellingly, the thing that gets rid of this crowd of outsiders is a burst water pipe, which leads to a flood (wonder what that was supposed to signify?).
The peace and quiet that follows allows the two lovers to rekindle and make a baby and all is well for a time. However, this new situation also allows the poet to write again, to also create something beautiful. This new creation from the poet begins the start of the third act and it leads to the building adulation again, the crowds coming from afar to worship at the poets feet, to deify him. But this time it is totally uncontrolled, the chaos that follows takes over the house, time jumps and sweeps, the house deteriorates and changes at a rapid rate, people change appearance and demeanour, police and soldiers arrive and all out war happens. This is by far the most breathtaking sequence I’ve seen in a long while, there is no shying away as it depicts the destruction of her house around her as she can do nothing to stop it, and all the while the poet is still enjoying the attention, forgiving the followers/fans even their biggest sins.
At the moment that you wonder where this is all going and how much further can this be taken, the baby boy arrives and with it comes peace, albeit temporarily. However this short-lived quiet is dramatically taken away when the poet takes the baby away from mother and gives him over to the masses. Over-eagerness and excitement leads to the death of the baby, again this is a parallel to the story of Jesus being given to the people of Earth and what they did to him. At this, and with the poets ever forgiving nature for his followers, mother can’t take any more, loses it and tries to take back control of her house, which she nearly manages to before the crowds take her to task and deliver a quite brutal beating. The flaming end is a justification for the behaviour of the masses but was the only recourse that mother could take to try to regain control.
The pace of the film works well in the first two acts, starting slowly and calmly before increasing the pace to a hectic, frantic final act, untethered and flailing wildly around. Whilst compared to the rest of the film this jarring and unsettling development feels like a totally different film, it also is the culmination of an unease, a malcontent that has been there since the arrival of the first strangers. In retrospect it fits into the themes and tone but at the time it hits hard and leaves you wondering why this radical change has taken place and on top of that, so quickly as to catch you off guard.
It isn’t to say that this is a poorly made film, on the contrary it is really well put together, looks great and has great central performances from Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, but there are a few moments that, for me, feel like they went too far during the chaos of the finale (if you’ve seen it, you’ll probably know the scenes). It is definitely one of the standout films that I have seen this year, but I’m not sure if it is for the right reasons.
As an allegory for our existence it is all there: From the beginning of (biblical) life through to the modern day or even a warning about the future? Listen to Mother Nature as she is trying to tell us that we need to look after the house otherwise it won’t end well……..