“Mother!” is a psychological horror film written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, the director of the Oscar-nominated “Black Swan” and “Requiem for a Dream”. It stars acting powerhouses such as Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, and Ed Harris, and tells the story of a woman who is marginalised in her own home.
The first thing to say regarding this film is that it simply isn’t for everyone. The narrative is abstract and symbolic to the point that it can often seem pretentious and much of what is shown is left up to interpretation.
However, it’s important to note that the story that’s being told wouldn’t be more compelling if it was presented in a less figurative manner. The issue at play isn’t whether or not the plot should’ve been presented in a more straightforward way; it’s whether or not this kind of film has any sort of narrative value to begin with.
From my perspective this type of filmmaking is exciting and challenges mainstream audiences to consider how narrow their understanding of film as an art form actually is, so although many viewers might leave the cinema thinking that they’ve watched something nonsensical they’ll at least have been tested. Some may even be intrigued enough to widen the scope of the movies that they go to see in the future which in my opinion can only be a good thing.
Jennifer Lawrence’s presence in “Mother!” will certainly go some way to enticing unsure cinemagoers in and I’m pleased to say that she’s fantastic in this movie. She plays a character (Mother) who is constantly treated poorly and she easily evokes the sympathy that you’re supposed to feel for her. She’s expressive and her performance is committed which makes all the difference to the overall quality of the film because the camera almost exclusively centres on her face.
Most of the shots in “Mother!” track Jennifer Lawrence’s character through her house and they’re carefully framed so that you’re focused on her whilst still being able to make out images on the periphery of your vision.
This works well at the start of the film because many audience members will be of the impression that the experience is going to mirror that of a conventional horror movie, with characters jumping out of the shadows at regular intervals in order to surprise the audience. Of course this isn’t actually the case and the real reason that the film’s cinematography is so captivating is that it forces you to enter Mother’s perspective and experience the events of the film with her, creating an intentionally confusing and disorientating atmosphere.
On top of the cinematography and the performances the sound design is immaculate as every sound echoes through the cinema. This is perfect for early scenes in which Mother and her partner are alone in the house and it continues to work as characters enter the fray and begin to make the pair’s life together more chaotic. The sound feels as though it’s invading the silence and destroying the tranquillity inside Mother’s home, which makes a great deal of sense when you read about Aronofsky’s intentions for the film.
Nevertheless, whether or not these decisions on Aronofsky’s part create an enjoyable viewing experience is entirely down to the individual. This is the epitome of what people would call a divisive movie and many will detest it for its conceited nature. Personally I found it to be a rewarding and absorbing watch and I feel that the value of the film comes from the way that the narrative is told rather than the direction of the narrative itself, but I will concede that it’s ostentatious and difficult to digest at times.
Cinematically, “Mother!” is interesting, assured, and constantly engaging. I wouldn’t recommend it to casual cinemagoers but Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem are brilliant and they deserve praise for their performances. The narrative is often perplexing and after watching Mother suffer throughout the film the pay-off isn’t necessarily worth the wait, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a movie made by a master of his craft.