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mother! – Early Review

mother! review

Premiering at the Venice Film Festival, and to London’s press yesterday, is J-Law’s most controversial film to date, centered around demonic powers and writer’s block.

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson
Director: Darren Aronofsky

A loving wife (Lawrence) lives with her older husband (Bardem) in his isolated house. She’s restoring it after it was gutted in a fire at the end of his last relationship, whilst he suffers from complete artistic paralysis. An intrusive superfan (Harris) appears at the front door, later his partner (Pfieffer) and their two children (Domhnall Gleeson and real-life bro Brian), all of whom are warmly invited stay by the husband, much to the wife’s dismay. More uninvited guests appear, each ruder than the last, and as her potential pregnancy keeps being mentioned she wonders what is really going on…

This is the latest work from writer-director Darren Aronofsky, of Black Swan, Requiem For A Dream and Noah. The first two acts are narratively straightforward, making for a suspenseful and excellently acted mystery (Lawrence, Bardem, Harris and Pfeiffer are one hell of a quartet). The intense third act takes a big step into the extreme with moments designed to shock and narrative vagueness / symbolism that will frustrate general audiences but provoke much discussion amongst cinefiles.

Many a film essay will be written on the meaning of it all, but at its core this is Rosemary’s Baby-inspired and since 48-year-old Aranofsky is dating 26-year-old Lawrence in real life, and has cast Bardem with the same 22 year age gap, there’s surely some parallel – Bardem’s character struggles for creative inspiration while overlooking his partner’s needs, finally creates, is swamped with adoring fans, and then that thing they both put their energy into, when it gets into the hands of the public…[spoiler]. But while I read mother! as Aronofsky’s take on how an artist can feed selfishly off a muse, there will be other interpretations.

Go and see it if you fancy being challenged by the year’s most artistic and controversial horror-thriller. Or if you love hearing Jennifer Lawrence say “excuse me” to rude people.

Grade: B+

mother! is released in the UK and US on September 15th.

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9 Comments »

  • The Host said
    The Host

    Just saw this one a few days ago. It’s been growing on me ever since.

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    • Sheridan Passell said
      Sheridan Passell

      They made a big point at the screening how we should wait and let it sink in. What was your initial reaction?

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  • gd smith said

    I dunno. I didn’t like this. At its core it seemed to be based on one of those “art” is destructive, men create art because they can’t carry babies or something or other conversion beloved of bad artists especially when they are trying to dominate or impress younger women. I suppose this could actually be the point and certainly makes the humour funnier. There are nods to Rosemary’s Baby, but that film had a very tight structure courtesy of Ira Levin’s novel (actually so tight, it’s almost like an exact shooting script) and was far more elegant. This thing goes all over the place, never lets the camera settle on anything and has too many close-ups for my taste. Having said that, it might jut be me. I liked Curse of the Wereswan, thought the Fountain was poor and could never take Requiem for Reefer Madness seriously. I will admit I love the bonkers Noah

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    • Sheridan Passell said
      Sheridan Passell

      Those are some interesting takes on it. Sure, I didn’t walk out fully satisfied, there was an offish pretension about the final act, but I enjoyed it as a cinematic journey and was gripped for most (was a bit repetitive at times). The actors are world class, and it’s bursting with literate ideas and subtext. It reminded me a lot of ‘Nocturnal Animals’ which was another “thriller-as-vehicle-for-comment on how artistic pursuit impacts on a partner”.

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      • gd smith said

        I like “Nocturnal Animals”. This I don’t think is bad. I just don’t like it. I had the same sort of problem with Neon Demon. If you are telling people what the subtext of your film is then it is not actually the subtext, it’s the text. In this case the subtext is what goes on beneath all the mother earth/earth mother and biblical stuff. I think it comes down to expectations v experience. Both Aronofsky and Refn make films that on paper I should like, but in the former case I’ve liked two films and the latter case none. There’s a kind need for approval, a need to be taken more seriously than the work IMO warrants which leads to a lot of fuss for limited pay offs. I think it’s because they are both self consciously trying to transcend genre and end up being a bit like the kind of art where the artist has written a huge post-modern tract to explain why their potato print is “playful”.

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        • Sheridan Passell said
          Sheridan Passell

          Sure, in both films the subtext overtook the narrative which isn’t the right approach, I agree. Neon Demon was partly incredible but ultimately frustrating, also because of Refn’s slavish insistence on the Kubrick pacing, which (mostly) didn’t suit it.

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  • gd smith said

    Neon Demon IMO was more like an attempt at giallo than a Kubrick film. A Strip Nude For Your Killer or What Have They Done To Solange sort of a film with the tasteless glee replaced by solemn artifice. Kubrick films are not slowly paced in context of the 1960s or 70s or even the 1980s. Full Metal Jacket zips along compared to the Deer Hunter. The Shining is breakneck compared to say the Changeling. They seem slower now mainly because they are old. If you look at the criticism from the time of release they were actually seen as showy, frenetic and jazzed up. Except Barry Lyndon.

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    • Sheridan Passell said
      Sheridan Passell

      Sure there was definitely more than one big influence on Neon Demon but there’s no doubt to me it was imitating Kubrick’s stilted shooting style. Look at the scene between Jack Torrance and Brady in The Shining for example, there’s nothing normal about the pacing there (extra beats in the delivery, characters often rooted unnaturally to the spot etc), but it creates a certain effect.

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      • gd smith said

        I think the thing about Kubrick is humour. What you call the stilted style to me is the result of a sort of absurdist alienation based humour a little like the way Samuel Becket framed his plays. People tend to think of Kubrick as a visual director. But when he reshot scenes over and over again it was rarely if ever because of dissatisfaction with the set up and was virtually always to get the actors to go beyond the habits of technique, to tease something unexpected from the dialogue or scene. Most of the directors who cite him as an influence tend to look at the camera set ups rather than what the actors are doing.

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