The film most likely to win an award for being the Most Polarising Movie of 2017 has arrived at our cinemas. Darren Aronofsky’s (BLACK SWAN; NOAH) latest film, MOTHER! (stylised as “mother!”), has received plenty of press since it debuted at the Venice Film Festival at the beginning of September and most of it has not been kind. At Venice, audiences booed. Market research firm, CinemaScore, gave the film an “F” – a score they’ve bestowed on only 18 other films since it started storing data 31 years ago. One American film critic – someone I often disagree with – called the film a “delusional freak show… of pretentious twaddle”. Another critic, however, called it “a glorious piece of cinematic insanity”. Where do I stand?
Jennifer Lawrence (PASSENGERS; JOY; AMERICAN HUSTLE) plays an unnamed woman – she’s only known as mother in the closing credits – who lives with her also unnamed older husband (played by Javier Bardem, TO THE WONDER) in a beautiful old house that sits in the middle of a bucolic field. While she contents herself by slowly renovating their home, he sits upstairs in his private study trying to write – trying, because he has a severe case of writer’s block. Their quiet, if perhaps unfulfilled, lives are suddenly turned upside down one night when a man arrives at their door. The man (played by Ed Harris, TV’s WESTWORLD), thinks that the couple runs a bed & breakfast. Because it’s late, the husband invites the man to spend the night in their home, much to the unheeded concern of the wife. The next day, the man’s wife (played by Michelle Pfeiffer, THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS) arrives and the couple settles into the house, making mother seem like a third, or fourth, wheel. Then more people start arriving and all hell breaks loose.
This is one weird movie but so was BLACK SWAN and I loved that one. I don’t love MOTHER! but I do respect it for its craft. Who knows? Maybe in 20 years it will become a cult classic. Right now, though, it’s just daring filmmaking and, I’ll grant, more than little pretentious. Without revealing any spoilers here, the story is rife with Biblical overtones. If Aronofsky is a deist, he sees G-d as having the very human weakness of vanity. Along that line, he also sees Men (and Women) as being greedy and selfish. Leaving the story aside, where the film succeeds is in making the viewer feel mother‘s increasing distress and confusion as more people show up at her door. These scenes are very reminiscent of ROSEMARY’S BABY and they’ll make you wonder who Bardem’s character really is or if all this is being played out in mother‘s head. Also good is the sound design. As the house gets overrun, we can hear people saying things but we can’t quite make any of it out. If you go back to one of the very early chapters of the Bible, you’ll understand what that’s all about. Certainly, as it’s happening, you’ll be wanting to punch the person sitting next to you out of frustration.
J-Law has been maligned for her performance here with many critics calling it her worst ever. True, in most scenes she just walks around the house with a dazed look on her face but if the general consensus of what the story is really about is correct, then what other expression is she supposed to have? She has no power to change anything. The big winner in the acting department, though, is Pfeiffer, who vamps it up to comedic effect. Yes, even as you’re wondering what the hell is going on, you’re laughing.
MOTHER! is not a film for everyone. Most people are going to hate it but that’s because they either don’t understand it or they think it’s pretentious twaddle. Even though it doesn’t quite succeed in its execution, I think it is worth watching, though, because it’s different and it’s audacious.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live in RTHK Radio 4’s studio at the pre-holiday time of Wednesday, October 4th at 9:15 am HK time!
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