Darren Aronofsky is always an interesting filmmaker, but he can be inconsistent. Requiem For a Dream is, in my opinion, a morose and devastating masterpiece, while The Fountain is clumsy and ineffectual. Black Swan definitely goes onto the ‘good Darren’ pile, while Noah is… er… probably best slipped under the carpet. mother! has polarised audiences like no other film in recent history. I find myself fascinated by the plethora of reports on social media from disgruntled punters claiming that it is the worst film they have ever suffered through – people so incensed they seem to be on the verge of stringing up the cinema staff for daring to show such guff.
Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in an octagonal house in the middle of nowhere, with ‘Him’ (Javier Bardem), a celebrated poet, currently suffering from a terrible case of writer’s block. We learn fairly quickly, that the house has, at some unspecified point in time, suffered a devastating fire and Mother is single-handedly attempting to return it to its former glory. While she mucks in with the paintbrushes and wood filler, her poet husband sits around and broods. But then the doorbell rings and we are introduced to ‘Man’ (Ed Harris), a creepy fellow with a consumptive cough, who claims to be a doctor. Mother is instantly suspicious of him, but the poet welcomes him in with open arms and invites him to stay. It isn’t long before Man’s surly wife (Michelle Pheiffer) turns up and starts to treat the house like her personal property, smoking cigarettes indoors and snogging her hubby at every opportunity. But the strange visitations don’t end there. Soon, the house looks like the worst Airbnb invasion in history, with people arriving in droves… and then Mother discovers she is pregnant…
Aronofsky’s camera seems to be caught up in a major infatuation with Lawrence. When it’s not looking her straight in the eye, it’s peering voyeuristically over her shoulder, and following her from room to room, as though it can’t bear to be parted from her. I love the fact that the film takes off at a sprint and barely pauses for breath, as event piles upon event and the whole thing careers headlong into madness.
Look, I appreciate that this won’t be for everyone – but neither do I buy the story that it’s some kind of an insult to the intelligence. In look and tone, the film it most resembles is Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby – it inhabits a similar world of paranoid speculation, Mother constantly aware of things going on behind her back, against her wishes, but unable to assert her authority. It’s an allegory, for sure, but one that drags in so many potential allusions that you can literally discuss it for hours. There’s the spectre of fame and what that can do to relationships: the way that some men feed off their partners in order to fuel their creativity. There are biblical references, observations about immigration and the way people selfishly protect their own space. And of course, there’s the subject of birth and what that does to a woman, how much it demands of her and what determination it takes to see it through to fruition.
Maybe what ultimately turns so many viewers off is the fact that all these references are there and all of them are relevant. Perhaps most people prefer to have things cut and dried – to identify exactly what the filmmaker is saying in a movie and then walk away feeling pleased with themselves. But there’s a lot to be said for allowing people to arrive at their own interpretation of what the film is actually about. Everybody will have a different view, and it’s no bad thing. In my opinion, when sorting out Aronofsky’s films, I genuinely feel this one belongs on the ‘good Darren’ pile – and that the term ‘Marmite Movie’ was probably never more apt than it is here.
One thing’s for sure. Watching this, there’s one thing you definitely won’t be. Bored.