Darren Aronofsky loves seeing his characters beaten down by a good theme. Take Requiem for a Dream (2000), in which Jared Leto and co are ripped apart by addiction, or Black Swan (2010), in which Natalie Portman is destroyed by her quest for perfection. In Mother! Aronofsky has cleverly opted for creation as his destructive theme of choice – creation of art, creation of life, and creation in the biblical sense – and for a good portion of the film the director’s choice seems to have been an excellent one. But as the film descends into its mad finale it becomes woefully apparent that Mother! amounts to little more than an exercise in spotting biblical Easter eggs.
‘mother’ (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in a remote house with ‘Him’ (Javier Bardem – no prizes for guessing what that capitalisation implies), a successful writer. When he invites a couple of strangers (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) to stay, it leads to the arrival of a whole swathe of uninvited guests. ‘mother’, desperate for them to leave, is unaware that the invasion of the house is only just beginning.
It’s been marketed as horror, but the first and second acts of Mother! more closely resemble an absurdist comedy. Lawrence does well as the desperate housewife, baffled by her vain husband’s insistence on letting his admirers into their home, but like the rest of the cast she takes on an allegorical role that doesn’t allow for much characterisation. The real starring role is Aronofsky’s religious allusions, which cover pretty much everything that wasn’t covered in Noah (2014) – the creation of the world, Cain and Abel, the Ten Plagues of Egypt, and finally destruction in the form of some sort of apocalypse.
What follows is half an hour of Lawrence screaming at the camera, while around her imagery of riots, wars and refugee camps give way to a violent and shocking finale. As the bodies pile up so too does the symbolism, but it never comes to anything insightful. Not even the (director’s own) allegorical reading of ‘mother’ as the bruised and battered Mother Nature works particularly well, as we’re never allowed to sufficiently sympathise with Lawrence’s exploited character. Indeed, if there’s any sort of moral to be found here, Mother! should be read as a cautionary tale about what happens when a director is given free reign over an overwrought passion project.
Image: Jennifer Lawrence Films (via Flickr)