mother! (2 stars)

Mother!

Jennifer Lawrence astonishes in Darren Aronofsky's provocative and infuriating latest

As a filmmaker, Darren Aronofsky has never been one to shy away from the extremes of humanity, whether exploring its darkest heart, or celebrating its brightest ambitions. His latest, mother!, is thematically similar to his Oscar-winning Black Swan, in that it embraces both the lure and lunacy of human endeavour. Whereas Black Swan was a beautifully crafted psychological drama, however, this is an infuriating exercise in cacophonous style over substance.

A poet (Javier Bardem) and his much younger wife (Jennifer Lawrence) live in a vast house in the middle of nowhere. She is consumed by her passion for him; he with finishing his masterwork. Their uneasy idyll is interrupted by the sudden arrival of a surgeon (Ed Harris), his vampy wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their violent sons, followed by a steady stream of uninvited guests who begin to overrun their home – to the delight of the poet, who enjoys their attentions, and the increasing consternation of his ignored wife.

The fact that none of its characters are named suggests that mother! is open to interpretation and indeed, as it progresses, it seems to be making various points about religion, the modern cult of celebrity and the male ego. While its message may be fluid, and symbolism rampant, creativity and creation are its overarching themes.

From its deliberately reductive title to its intimate focus on Lawrence – her astonishing performance, alongside Matthew Libatique's stunning camerawork are the film's highlights – Aronofsky is particularly concerned with the place of women on the human stage. That they play supporting, and often sacrificial, roles in the pursuits of men – be they divine, supernatural or entirely mundane – is explicit.

It's a valid point, and many will applaud Aronofsky for making it. Yet, like so many filmmakers before him, he seemingly fails to appreciate that self-awareness isn't a free pass. As we witness Lawrence driven to the brink of madness, the camera tight on her agonised face (and, often, her body) through sequences of unspeakable cruelty, any such commentary is entirely overwhelmed, and made moot, by the film's wilfully provocative imagery.

General release from Fri 15 Sep.

mother!

  • 2 stars
  • 2017
  • US
  • 1h 55min
  • 18
  • Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
  • Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris
  • UK release: 15 September 2017

The wife (Lawrence) of a poet (Bardem) live in a vast house in the middle of nowhere, until their life is interrupted by a surgeon (Harris), his wife (Pfeiffer) and their violent sons. Lawrence is astonishing, but other than that it’s an infuriating exercise in noisy style over substance.

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