Maternal Instincts

From early films like Pi (1998) and Requiem For A Dream (2000) to the award-winning Black Swan (2010), Darren Aronofsky has made a career of jabbing audiences with his nightmarish visions. His latest film mother! certainly fulfils that remit, with a story about artistic creation that boasts one of the more insane last acts in living memory. A home-invasion story that would make Michael Haneke blanch, it’s a daring and divisive piece that will split viewers into those who find it either playful or repugnant.

Jennifer Lawrence plays the unnamed “mother” of the title, a naïve innocent who lives with her older partner, a writer (Javier Bardem) dubbed ‘Him’ in the credits. She spends her days decorating their isolated but idyllic house, while he seeks inspiration for his next work. He finds it when a stranger (Ed Harris) comes knocking at the door, believing the house to be a B&B. Inviting him in, Bardem’s author is soon enthused; even more so when the stranger’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives the next day. The ultra-house proud Lawrence is left as unsettled as we are.

This is just the beginning of an increasingly bizarre tale, a film that has the power to fire some unbelievable curveballs as Aronofsky lurches the narrative through some increasingly out-there scenarios. Who are these people and what do they want? The details are teased then torn-up in a story that puts us squarely in the position of Lawrence’s increasingly befuddled character. What is the significance of Harris’ lighter? Or the elaborate crystal in Bardem’s office? And why is there a beating heart lodged in the toilet?

All of these questions and more probably won’t be answered by Aronofsky’s circuitous tale, a story that borrows ever-so-slightly from Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby before running in its own mad (and maddening) direction. Touching on everything from excessive fan worship to the birth of Christ, Aronofsky riffs on the idea of divine creation, as Bardem’s character finally gains the inspiration he needs, but at what price? The intensity and savagery is ratcheted up in the final half-hour with scenes that will invariably offend some.

Lawrence is ideal as the saintly would-be mother, the perfect opposite to Bardem’s creepy middle-aged manipulator. There are some explosive cameos too from Domnhall Gleeson and his brother Brian, as the story becomes increasingly icky. Arguably far more interesting than Aronofsky’s pious Biblical tale Noah (2014), this is a devilish drama that will leave you feeling both queasy and slightly in awe of its writer-director for having the guts to take studio money and produce something this risqué.

James Mottram

Mother! opens in cinemas on 15 September. For more information:

1. Still from Mother!. Courtesy of Paramount.