Tighten your seatbelts for a two hour white knuckle ride

Cry for your mother! if you want to but Darren Aronofsky guarantees there is no apron to hide behind for two viscerally intense hours. The fractured psychology that engulfed Black Swan feels like a footnote compared to this unapologetic attack on the senses. It’s a script written on pure instinct intended to bludgeon your own, reaching a climax that very few films have the bravery to venture into. Aronofsky has declared that his latest release should come with a warning attached – and he’s certainly not wrong – but it will prove to be one of the most divisive films released this year.

Which may also be a kind way of saying the film is absolutely batshit crazy. Not from start to finish but it paces itself towards an exhilarating crescendo that at the very least will evoke a compulsive reaction from you. It all starts placidly enough, waking in the morning with Jennifer Lawrence – only referred to as Mother in the credits – in the idyllic countryside house she shares with Javier Bardem (Him). He is a writer and a poet currently struggling to overcome his writer’s block and she spends her days putting the finishes touches on her ongoing renovation of a house that was gutted by fire.

Their perfect little paradise is about to be disturbed by the unexpected arrival of a man (Ed Harris) who mistakes their home for a B&B. Bardem is happy for him to spend the night much to Lawrence’s dismay and the next day the man’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) also turns up on their doorstep. Not only do the couple take their hospitality for granted but they make no attempt to respect their hosts’ personal boundaries. Later that same day, their two equally rude and abrasive sons (brothers Brian and Domhnall Gleeson) also appear and begin quarrelling in the house, leaving Lawrence floundering to comprehend what is happening.

The line stops here when it comes to describing the story because it would spoil all of the fun. Aronofsky is in no mood for grey areas and puts everything he has out there, leaving nothing to the imagination. His last film, Noah, retold the classic story from the bible and mother! continues in a Biblical vein, reaching for near apocalyptic levels of drama, witnessed through the wide-eyes of Jennifer Lawrence. The camera remains focussed on her for over an hour across the entire length of the film, forcing us to experience first-hand the unstoppable changes occurring in her beautifully created world. Whether looking straight into her eyes, over her shoulder, or from her own perspective, it relies heavily on Lawrence’s ability to transmit her emotions to the audience; a task she is more than capable of meeting head-on.

Alongside her Bardem imposes his older, domineering presence to purposely stand out as the authoritative figure in the house and the story. The age gap between the two characters is for good reason and it is far from a case of simply casting another older male actor with a younger female actress to inflate the male ego. In fact, that male spirit manifests itself through his character, leaving Lawrence helplessly caught up in a maelstrom of maleness. There are strong thematic and contextual reasons that underpin their relationship and the multi-layered meanings do not prevent the narrative from working on a purely surface level. Aronofsky has his own intentions and you will no doubt find your own interpretation buried deep with the many events of the plot.

As crazy as mother! really is (and that may be underestimating it slightly), there leaves little doubt that Aronofsky is in complete control of its direction. It feels full of reckless abandon but only because that is the direction he is guiding it towards. The Rosemary Baby elements that were teased in the trailer are there in the film, although that is only a small part of its make-up. Drama, black comedy, horror, tears, laughter, life, death and everything in between all converge in what could be described as a brief history of time.

Steven Sheehan

Updated: Sep 13, 2017

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