Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle


Grade : A+ Year : 2017 Director : Darren Aronofsky Running Time : 2hr 1min Genre : , ,
Movie review score

I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have heard as little as possible about Darren Aronofsky’s “Mother!” before finally seeing it to myself. I knew it had been polarizing, but knowing how visceral the reactions to it have been only made it that much more of a must for me to watch. I cannot promise a spoiler-free review- this will be my personal reaction to the film Aronofsky has made.

In terms of tone and gut reaction, the only real comparison I can make with another film in Aronofsky’s career is “Requiem for a Dream.” While I think it would make sense for people to point to his Oscar-winning “Black Swan” as a comp, “Requiem” feels more like him swinging for the fences in terms of audacity like he does here. “Black Swan” can be somewhat accessible; “Requiem,” like “Mother!,” is a commitment on the part of the viewer to accept what Aronofsky is doing, even if they don’t like what he does. But “Black Swan” is still a good comparison to “Mother!,” primarily because of how melodramatic and over-the-top things get. “Black Swan” went to a 10; “Mother!” pushes it to 11, like Spinal Tap, and then just flies over the edge with reckless abandon. I fucking love it.

The fact that I saw this film at a time where I am 10 years removed from a moment of traumatic health concerns, where I almost died, feels quite fitting. On this day 10 years ago, I was in a medically-induced coma after living too long with untreated asthma, and landing in the ER with pneumonia and a collapsed lung. In the aftermath of this, I also began to take control of my anxiety and stress that had long hindered my emotional development. Watching Jennifer Lawrence during the first half of this film, I felt as though I was watching a kindred spirit, someone so wracked with anxiety and stress about her life, and what her husband (Javier Bardem), a poet, brings into it when he invites a stranger (Ed Harris) to stay with them, that all she can do is retreat. They feel as though they are on a different wavelength throughout most of the film, and that can be paralyzing for her when she has concerns that are not being respected. To say things spiral out of control for them after Harris’s character enters their house is an understatement; it is not long before a death, a wake and their house, Bardem’s childhood house, which Lawrence’s character wants to get fixed up for them, gets destroyed, and the emotions from that fallout lead to them getting pregnant. This brings about a new wave of anxieties and stress for Lawrence’s character, which will lead to an even larger gathering at their house when Bardem has finally been able to finish new work, and it is published.

Aronofsky’s previous film was 2014’s “Noah,” a bold interpretation of the Bible story that got many people of faith in a tizzy for how he, as an atheist after a Jewish upbringing, told one of the most famous stories from the Bible. In his first film, 1998’s “Pi,” he had a cabal of Orthodox Jews chasing his protagonist, whose discovery, they claimed, contained mystical secrets. And his 2006 film, “The Fountain,” used fiction and fantasy to find a spiritual nature in a scientist’s race to try and save his wife from death. There’s a lot of evidence within “Mother!,” without explicitly saying it, that Aronofsky is not yet done with exploring religious and spiritual themes in his work. While the second half of the film will bring to mind “Rosemary’s Baby” to many a viewer, there’s a lot of connective tissue within the events that happen when Bardem’s character has finally finished his work that recalls the story of Christ, and the nature of religious cults when one individual can have a profound emotional impact on many people. Putting together the subtextual nature of “Mother!” when Lawrence’s character is about to go into labor with a tone and visual style that recalls a modern-day apocalypse, Aronofsky is not looking for subtle, quiet reflection, but a reaction that will sucker punch the viewer. It’s not hard to see why audiences have responded as viscerally negative to it- I was excited by the fact that Aronofsky continues to swing for the fences with each film, and challenge me to decide how I’m going to react with each, new project.

Focusing on the interpretations of Aronofsky’s film that are possible makes it easy to lose sight of the work of his collaborators. As the main characters, Lawrence and Bardem do some of the strongest, most emotionally challenging work of their careers. Bardem, as an artist whose ego requires stroking, and a husband who can lose sight of his responsibilities to his wife, gives his most complicated performance since 2010’s “Biutiful,” and it’s a force to be reckoned with. As the titular character, Lawrence gives what is handily the finest female performance in an Aronofsky film to date. She only has a handful of moods she is given by Aronofsky’s screenplay and direction, but it’s frightening how much she commits to them. This is the most fearless, confident work she’s done since “Silver Lining Playbook,” and she takes us on an emotional journey with this character that is unlike anything I’ve seen in recent years. This is ballsy acting, and I would love to see Paramount to push Lawrence for Best Actress this year despite how polarizing the film is. This was never going to be a perfect film, or universally-beloved film, because Aronofsky’s vision here is too daring to expect perfection. When you deal with the extremities of storytelling, in any medium, you’re going to ruffle a lot of feathers. Aronofsky, like Kubrick, Herzog and Tarkovsky, is marching to the beat of his own drummer, and holy fuck is it unlike anything else you’re going to see in 2017. Then again, that’s exactly why those other filmmakers are all-timers, as well.

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