I’m usually a pretty positive person. I like look for the upsides in most things – if I watch or read something I haven’t enjoyed, I’ll try to point out a few of the good parts that were worth mentioning.
Darren Aronofsky’s widely reviewed and commented on mother! is not a film I can be positive about. It left me feeling angry and upset – both due to the content and also the fact that I had spent £11 on a ticket to see it.
So be warned, this might be the most negative thing I’ve ever written. And another heads up, I’m going to be dead spoilery. I’m going to talk about events and scenes that take place at the very end of the film, so if you do decide to watch it maybe read this review after. Or before, if you want a little warning about what it to come.
Set in a beautiful rural house somewhere presumably in America, mother! stars Jennifer Lawrence (admittedly one of the better elements of the film) and Javier Bardem star as the two main characters – an unnamed married couple who are trying to redecorate the house and find inspiration for their next collection of poetry respectively. After the unexpected arrival of two obsessive fans of the poet’s work (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, on creepy form) events begin to spiral out of control. And not just in a hedonistic, expected way.
The two strangers more or less move in uninvited – at least by Lawrence’s character – fawning and flattering the poet who enjoys the attention. After the sudden arrival of their sons who are at loggerheads over a will, there is a quick but brutal fight in which one of them has their head bashed in by another and subsequently dies. The house is then taken over by the family’s grieving friends and relatives for a wake in which Lawerence has no choice but to act as hostess.
The camera is entirely focused on Lawrence for the duration of the film. Unflattering, uncomfortable close ups on her face force you into her position, witnessing every indication of emotion that she experiences. You begin to anger when she does, feeling completely and utterly helpless and ignored when her questions and opinions are ignored by every single other character. And when, finally, she explodes in rage as the funeral party destroy her house, her screams feel like your own.
The appearance of a cult-like following to the poet and his work lingers. In a brief period of calm, in which Lawrence becomes the Mother of the title, she waddles round heavily pregnant, organising a feast for the poet to celebrate his new collection selling out.
This moment of calm quickly descends into chaos when a mob appear with torches to meet the objection of their obsession – the poet – quickly transforming from a few people demanding signatures to howling, demented hoard who destroy the house. Lawrence tries to escape the madness but becomes lost in the house that becomes a war zone, crawling over corpses as people lose their minds around her.
She finally gives birth, screaming in agony – and by this point I wanted to do the same. Finally, there is some sense of respite – the baby is adorably cute and Lawrence contently breastfeeds him. The poet however, self important and egocentric, wants to show his adoring masses his progeny.
What follows is one of the worst things I’ve ever seen on screen.
The crowd seize the baby and carry him over their heads, shouting and cheering as Lawrence screams and tries to get him back. You then are forced to see the baby wetting himself, and as it covers the crowd there is a horrifying crunch that drowns out anything else in the soundscape and the baby’s neck bends unnaturally backwards.
I could barely concentrate on the rest of the film. And I didn’t want to. I didn’t care about what happened to the bland, passive Mother and the egotistic Poet. Put it this way, as my friend commented at the end, it essentially copies the ending of (500) Days of Summer.
The film has been divisive; if you look at reviews you’ll either see people passionately defending it’s daring, it’s dissection of modern society or the incredible metaphors that Aronofsky supposedly weaves into the film.
For me, I didn’t see that. Aronofsky uses stereotypical, boring tropes: the unhappy couple whose relationship is solved by a baby, the women as the earth mother who physically feels the changes of the world around her, or the “incredible” genius of a man whose boring, timid wife can’t possibly understand his struggles and his work. It’s mediocre creative who believes that world are simply crying out for his insight and talent. Sounding familiar?
Do yourself a favour – see something else instead.