Welcome to the Crystal Maze.
Darren Aronosfsky’s mother! is like no other film you’ll see this year: guaranteed. As a film lover, an Aronosfsky film is a bit like root canal at the dentist: you know you really need to go ahead and do it, but you know you’re not going to be very comfortable in the process.
Jennifer Lawrence (“Passengers“, “Joy“) plays “mother!” doing up a dilapidated old house in the middle of nowhere with her much older husband “Him” (Javier Bardem, “Skyfall”). he (sorry…. He) is a world-famous poet struggling to overcome a massive writing block. The situation is making things tense between the couple, and things get worse when He inexplicably invites a homeless couple “man” (Ed Harris, “Westworld”, “The Truman Show”) and “woman” (Michelle Pfeiffer, “Stardust”) to stay at the house. As things go progressively downhill, is mother losing her mind or is all the crazy stuff going on actually happening?
Jennifer Lawrence can do no wrong at the moment, and her complexion in the film is flawless: it needs to be, since she has the camera constantly about 3 inches from her face for large chunks of the movie: I sat in the very back row, and I still wasn’t far enough away! Her portrayal of a house-proud woman getting progressively more and more irritated by her guests’ inconsiderate acts – a glass? without a table mat??! – is a joy to watch. As her DIY ‘paradise’ is progressively sullied my ‘man’ and ‘woman’, so her distress grows exponentially.
Some of the supporting acting is also superb, with Ed Harris and particularly Michelle Pfeiffer enjoying themselves immensely. Also worthy of note are the brothers played by real-life brothers Brian Gleeson and Domhnall Gleeson: the latter must never sleep since he must be *constantly* on set at the moment. One of these guys in particular is very abel! (sic).
Whereas the trailer depicts this as a kind of normal haunted house spookfest, it is actually nothing of the sort: much of the action (although far-fetched) has a reasonably rational explanation (a continuation of my theme of the “physics of horror” from my last two reviews). The film is largely seen through mother!’s eyes, and the skillful cinematographer Matthew Libatique – an Aronosfsky-regular – oppressively and relentlessly delivers a uniquely tense cinematic experience. For me, for the first two thirds of the film at least, it succeeds brilliantly.
Aronosfsky is no shirker of film controversy: having Natalie Portman perform oral sex on Natalie Portman in “Black Swan” was enough to teach you that. But in the final reels of this film, Aronosfsky doesn’t just wind the dial past 10 to the Spinal Tap 11…. he keeps going right on up to 20. There are a few scenes in movies over the years that I wish I could go back and “unsee”, and this film has one of those: a truly upsetting slice of horror, playing to your worst nightmares of loss and despair. While the religious allegory in these scenes is splatted on as heavily as the splodges of mother!’s decorative plaster, they are nonetheless extremely disturbing and bound to massively divide the cinema audience. I think it’s fair to say that this DVD is not going to have “The Perfect Gift for Mother’s Day” as its marketing strapline.
Which all leaves me… where exactly? For the first time in a long time I actually have no idea! This is a film that I was willing to give an “FF” to while I was watching it, but as time has passed and I have thought more on the environmental and religious allegories, and the portrayal of the cult worship prevalent in popular X-factor celebrity, I am warming to it despite my best instincts not to. I’m not religious, but I would love to compare notes on this one with someone with strongly Christian views.
So, I’m actually going to break all the rules (a snake told me to) and not provide any rating below at this time. I might revisit it again at Christmas* to see if I can resolve it in my mind as either a movie masterpiece or over-indulgent codswallop.
* I have, and have decided to give it 4 Fads… its a film I’ve thought about a lot over the last few months.
Fad Rating: FFFF.