Mother! is showing in our cinema from the 3 – 9 November.
If I had to pick a single word to describe Darren Aronofsky’s very varied filmography, the one that leaps to mind is “overreach”. I wouldn’t describe his films as “extreme,” exactly (although to this day Requiem for a Dream (2000) remains one of my more testing cinematic experiences). But they all have the quality of someone continually grasping for the moon, even if it will always remain tantalisingly untouched.
Till now his one true costly disaster was his pet project, The Fountain (2006), which is in my book vastly underrated and has much to recommend it. The Fountain is an ultra-condensed science-fiction costume-melodrama spanning a whole millennium which, in fairness, only a madman would think could make a single penny. But after that came the redeeming one-two punches of The Wrestler (2008) and Black Swan (2010). His reputation as a filmmaker who could square the circle of directing arty-farty fare that could actually make a heap of money seemed assured. This was sealed by the great success of Noah (2014), still the most bonkers large-scale epic I have seen on the big screen (and I saw Waterworld (1995)), though to my mind that made it all the more impressive.
All of which pre-amble leads us to Mother! If you haven’t seen it yet you’ve probably heard some of the shrieking surrounding its release. The majority of this seemed to come from people affronted by the very idea that Aronofsky could make a film starring Jennifer Lawrence and have the temerity not to fulfil their tritest of expectations.
Lawrence (who is Aronofsky’s partner in real life) is married to a writer played by Javier Bardem (they are noted in the credits simply as “mother” and “Him”). They live together in a large wooden house in a wilderness somewhere (I’m aware of how vague this is sounding). While Bardem spends his time upstairs scribbling away and jealously guarding a mysterious stone, Lawrence has set about doing up the place in time for her to give birth.
One evening, a strange man (billed as “man”, yeah, you’re getting it), played by Ed Harris arrives, claiming he is lost. Except he may not be. Then his wife arrives (“woman”, Michelle Pfeiffer), then – well, I’ll save on the spoilers by giving away too much, although I remain sceptical that this film can be “spoiled” in the conventional way people mean it. What unfolds isn’t a narrative so much as transgression heaped on delirious transgression, with a dreamer seemingly trapped within a dream, but – to quote David Lynch’s other demented saga from this year – who is the dreamer?
This has all proved too much for many, it would seem, although for my money it is always worth sneaking a peek inside Aronofsky’s mind for a few hours. The higher the opprobrium surrounding it, the longer I’m likely to stick around. Long live the overreachers, may they continue to cause shrieking, swearing, vomiting, walkouts, bafflement and general outrage, although with Mother! Aronofsky is still a way away from holding that moon.