Oh God, Mother! Blood! Blood! Sorry, wrong film. Darren Aronofsky showcases his most nihilistic film yet in a true display of megalomania.
The subjective viewpoints of delirious protagonists and relentless subordination of the audience’s gaze to them are two key elements in Darren Aronofsky’s most controversial films. When he tells us he produced mother! in order to return to his roots, seen in movies such as Requiem For A Dream or Black Swan, it’s apparent that he’s referencing the combination of these two elements. A statement, by the way, from someone who clearly holds his own career trajectory in high regard since, after all, Aronofsky never really diverged from his fairly ingrained narrative template.
In Mother!, we follow Jennifer Lawrence’s head full time – literally. In addition to having the cinematography express her character’s stream of consciousness – dealing with the insecurities, fragilities and violence associated with being a woman, wife and mother – Aronofsky practically tapes his camera to Lawrence’s shoulder, and we watch the film from her perspective alone. In the far and few moments in which the camera breaks away from her, it’s usually to delineate a progression in time; for instance, the shot of a woman in a flimsy nightgown, generous breasts and morning light between her thighs brings us the sensuality of a relationship still in its lustful stage. Later, it reveals the shape of the same woman, now heavily pregnant. Javier Bardem spends most of the film relegated to his meagre role, an estranged husband, a mere flicker of something seen in the corner of the eye.
Many would argue – and rightly so – that cinema is the art of the unseen. Every choice of framing involves committing to what to leave in and renouncing from what to leave out. Such choices, in the hands of a fine filmmaker, together with the right sound score and the audience’s imagination, can create an endless number of off-screen worlds. In mother!, however, the main proposition is one of inwardness; the house setting is scenographically economic, with little to be discovered. Any objects worth showing, such as a jewel or a wrench, always have serve a purpose to the greater picture, rather than being used to build a relatable world. Minimalism is used to emulate a sacrosanct space and express the blank canvas that is the character’s mind; Aronofsky didn’t have to go as far as getting Lawrence to paint a blank wall to clarify that. For a film that fancies itself a horror piece, Mother!’s inability to generate off-screen suspense is catastrophic; there’s not much else other than scene-to-scene impact.
It’s then up to Lawrence to react again, and again, and again. Truth be told, she does a good job of it, considering the inglorious position she’s in, avoiding the melodramatic expansive gestures she displays under David O. Russell (which you’d almost expect). Everything is linked to her character’s reactive, but most often passive gaze; in this sense, the mother, despite all her suffering during childbirth, is much more of a spectator of her own life than an active agent, possibly making this Aronofsky’s most nihilistic film to date. At every turn, mother’s freedom of choice is non-existing. What’s the left of Mother!? Dichotomising screenplay, hazy themes, infamous allegories – it all boils down to placing the spotlight on Aronofsky, the creator, rather than on mother, his creation.
In all fairness (once again), Aronofsky has always been at ease as the ultimate narcissistic creator. His visual idiosyncrasies reach a whole new level in mother!, and it’s true that no reputable Hollywood filmmaker dares to combine and film the uncouth and grotesque like he does. Then again, that relates more to his tastes, impulses and obsessions, rather than the fictional worlds he attempts to construct, which rarely gain any autonomy beyond stylisation. In mother!, this pours out as a waterfall of megalomania, with the recreation of Eden and Mary’s journey, returning to the biblical themes that have been recurrent in his career since its inception, but this time with him standing tall and proud as the omnipotent Creator, unquestionable in his choices.
There is, nonetheless, a certain level of unattainable genius and, for better or worse, it’ll be a very long time until we have another film quite like Mother!. You can tell a filmmaker has really outdone himself when he comes up with a film that looks like a Lars von Trier – with all the nihilism of Melancholia, the over-the-top staging of The Idiots, the twitchy scenography of Dogville – but that not even von Trier would have the balls to come up with.
Dir: Darren Aronofsky
Scr: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhall Gleeson
Prd: Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin, Ari Handel
DOP: Matthew Libatique
Run time: 121 mins
mother! is currently available at a cinema (possibly) near you.