Sunday, 17 September 2017

Review: mother!

Cert: 18 / 121 mins / Dir. Darren Aronofsky / Trailer

Before what could be politely described as 'a challenging piece of work', and after the usual run of ads for products that no-one is actively bothered about, sat a selection trailers. This was the distributor's demographically-charged opportunity to showcase upcoming content to an audience already somewhat on-side, by means of them being perched in front of a tonally-related film. And so, on Friday afternoon, we had the promo reels for The Ritual, Jigsaw, Flatliners and… A Bad Moms Christmas. It appears that Paramount aren't entirely sure who Darren Aronofsky's mother! is for. And having since watched it through, I know the feeling…

We centre around a couple played by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, building an idyllic life for themselves in a recently restored house in the countryside. But when a stranger arrives unexpectedly and is offered hospitality, it begins an irreversible chain of events that will change their lives forever. It's nowhere near as linear or formulaic as that setup makes it sound, I assure you.

Notwithstanding my snarkiness at the choice of pre-film trailers above, the other thing which caught my attention was the BBC-card's brief cautionary summary: "Strong violence", it said*1. Just that. Strong violence. Which, with a work like this, translates roughly as "The two lines afforded to a description on this screen are nowhere near enough to even begin listing all the things which an audience could find problematic. Seriously, mate. I mean, you've seen the trailer, right? However, there are moments of violence in there which, while they aren't intended for shock-value alone, are nonetheless over-and-above what we could normally squeeze into the 15 bracket. So let's just say 'strong violence' and leave it at that. In all honesty, the violence depicted will be the least of your worries if you start actually thinking about what you've sat through, but hey. Strong violence."

Right, four paragraphs in. Better start critiquing the film, really. And that's very much the thing; the more you think about this, the more you'll back away from examining too closely. mother! is frankly insane*3, albeit in a marvellous way; a two-hour fever dream, grinding together domestic farce and escalating psychological horror, like Terry and June on an absinthe and mescaline-fuelled bender. Aronofsky's screenplay is an allegorical symphony of religious*4, social and ecological notes, where not a single frame, line of dialogue nor pause between them is wasted. Less of an enigmatic scalpel, more an intricate sledgehammer.

Lawrence and Bardem are on excellent form, absorbed completely into their characters. Ed Harris with Brian and Domhnall Gleeson are strong (if fleeting) support, and Michelle Pfeiffer is utterly terrifying. As the story unfolds and the cast grows larger, Aronofsky never loses the focus on his leading pair. All in all, this is great direction of a great cast.

And how it makes the audience work, like only art can, and is all the better because it's not trying to appeal to the widest possible audience. None of the characters are specifically named, so the spoken references to him, her, he, she, they and you gets irritating around ten minutes after the house-guests arrive. The hand-held camerawork spends a fair chunk of time in close-up / extreme close-up position and is constantly moving, lending the atmostphere an air of genuine claustrophobia unlike anything else I've seen this year. This is a horror movie in the truest sense, showing what can me achieved when a writer/director has the courage to let madness expand organically.

The only real issue I have with mother! is that I'm not sure if I want to see it again (just yet, at least), in case I find it less enjoyable the second time round. Ironically, watching with the knowledge of what's to come feels like it will rob the screenplay of its power, despite bringing the opportunity to pore over its foreshadowing in greater detail.

It's rare that films come so close to being classified as an art installation, and rarer still that the multiplexes screen them, but Aronofsky's work really is the jewel in the ashes.

Go and watch mother!

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Requiem For A Dream, A Ghost Story.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
The close-quarters shaky cam is arguably better suited to a small screen. This film looks gorgeous but I wouldn't be surprised if it gives some viewers headaches/nausea.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I think so?

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It could well be.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Absolutely not.
There is a fair chance you'll despise this, and I delight in you telling me why

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard, although there's a lot of hullabaloo in the third act and it would be easy to lose one in there.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: General Hux is in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…
(I can't give the film a 7 without watching it again; I can't watch it again without letting my brain process it; I can't let my brain process it without speaking to other people who've also seen it. So go and watch this then report back, yeah?)

*1 Speaking of which, this was the second 18-rated movie of the week, and the second to feature very specific capitalisation in its title. And while I know it's a thing I can't seem to let go of, that exclamation mark at the end of mother! isn't going to hashtag well. And it'll look even worse without the capitalisation normally given to a film title. Any online buzz will be lost in people talking about their mums*2. It's almost like Aronofsky just wants to bring life to his artistic vision and doesn't give two fucks about social media marketing. I know, right? [ BACK ]

*2 Maybe that's why we got the trailer for Bad Moms Christmas? Very meta. Speaking of which, yeah - a footnote within a footnote. That's quite meta, too. Although a film like this fully deserves it. [ BACK ]

*3 Now it's one thing to have the title stylised as mother! with the lower-case 'm' and exclamation mark permanently attached making spell-checkers think the sentence has just finished. As it's a conceit of an already unique film, I'm fine with that. But it feels very, very wrong to be starting a sentence with the title and keeping the small-m. [ BACK ]

*4 If even I can see the biblical references scattered throughout this film (but still know that's not what it's specifically about), there are probably way, way more that I'm not picking up. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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