Highbrow performances by Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem; lowbrow shock value

Fans of Requiem For A Dream would expect a certain f****d up undercurrent from a Darren Aronofsky film, and Mother! (with the exclamation mark) delivers on that front. If you thought the insanity in the finale of Requiem was disturbing it’s been heightened even more here. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing depends on how you enjoy your diet of effed up cinema.

Mother! is largely made of two cascading halves – the good side which renders superb intrigue, horror, a bit of comedy and bizarre visuals, and the negative side, which largely consists of a barrage of overtly obvious, in your face metaphors.

A still from the trailer of Mother! Youtube screengrab.

We’re introduced to a man simply known as Him (Javier Bardem), an accomplished novelist in a large house suffering from writers block. His wife (Jennifer Lawrence) wakes up one morning and begins to hear strange things in the house. They soon have guests in the house (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer), who the husband happily welcomes but the wife isn’t too sure about – because no rational human would let strangers live in your house.

Things quickly go out of control as more and more guests begin turning up at the house, some claiming to be fans of Him and others who simply want to reside in the house for a purpose not very clear to the wife.

Aronofsky builds on dread and tension beautifully, keeping you on the edge of your seats as he amplifies the absurdity of the plot. Your nerves will be jangled as you see the events through the wife’s eyes as she tried to figure out what the hell is going on. The film kicks into high gear the moment one of the guests dies and the insanity never lets up, leading up to a third act with a scene that will make gore nerds rejoice and others gag in their mouths.

The scene in question is in fact the point where you begin to question whether the film needed to be this graphic, both visually as well as metaphorically. The thing is, folks well versed with horror will be able to pick up the clues very early on in the film, so by showcasing such an over the top sequence, Aronofsky extends an obvious moment to an extreme degree, rendering it more of an indulgence in shock value than classy filmmaking.

The commentary in the film isn’t as subtle as, say, Get Out, and is also not executed with the comedic twang of that film. The ‘mystery’ of the film is as subtle as a jackhammer you see coming from a mile away towards your face, and you wish Aronofsky went slightly more Pi than Black Swan. One could, of course, argue that the lesson the film ultimately gives you is the need of the hour, particularly with the awful state of things in the world.

As you’d expect in Aronofsky’s films the performances are mostly excellent, rendering the much needed high brow component in a film with decidedly low brow shock value. Lawrence is all right, but nothing spectacular, as her role requirement is to mostly look confused and angry. Bardem, however kills it; his eyes hiding a secret that is all too obvious but easy to accept when revealed.

It’s obvious why the film didn’t do well commercially when it released in the US – because this is not exactly entertainment – it’s a depressing piece of cinema with far too much truth to handle. If anything Mother! would have had to be even more obvious and dumber, so to say, to make more money.

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