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Thursday, November 9, 2017


An overwrought piece of work that insists on projecting the cinematic equivalent of screaming headlines to illustrate its thoroughly disputable “insights”. (Review: Patrick Compton - 1/10)

Writer-director Darren Aronofski’s latest film is not just a disaster, it may even be certifiable. A screechy, hysterical Freudian nightmare about an egocentric poet and his wife, it’s in every sense a horror show.

A critic has written that if you gave a pretentious adolescent strange herbs to smoke and put $40 million in his pocket, you might end up with Mother! That’s about right. This is an overwrought piece of work that insists on projecting the cinematic equivalent of screaming headlines to illustrate its thoroughly disputable “insights”. By the end of an increasingly jagged, not to mention interminable two hours, you will beg for a long lie-down in a dark, quiet room.

Aronofski, who has acquired a dubious cult status with movies such as Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan, The Wrestler and Noah, has thrown together the stylistic ingredients of haunted house horror and Freudian drama and emerged with a mix that is uniquely his own.

The movie is shot (largely in claustrophobic close-up) from the point of view of a young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) who is married to a famous older poet (Javier Bardem). They live in solitude in the poet’s house in the country. As she beavers away renovating the place, he struggles with writer’s bloc and a loss of eros. She is anxious, understandably so as he is clearly more interested in himself, his work and his reputation than he is in her.

This state of affairs is underlined when the house is invaded by a creepy surgeon and his wife (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) who are not only tolerated by the poet, but actively encouraged to move in, largely to stroke his ego. Their intrusive behaviour becomes increasingly unbearable, climaxing in a shocking, bloody, domestic explosion.

At this stage we may feel that the thoroughly alienated and traumatised wife should get the hell out of the house, and the relationship. Her feelings of neurotic disquiet are briefly stilled, however, when she discovers she is pregnant. The film then cuts to months later when she is expecting the birth of her child.

Hard though it may be to believe, the movie’s first half can retrospectively be seen as the calm before the storm as it now builds up a final head of steam which pitches us into a grotesque freakshow that finally gets down to the heart of the matter.

What is the movie all about? Amidst all the madness, we are told that relationships demand a woman’s extreme emotional and physical sacrifice – without end. As Pfeiffer’s character puts it: “You give and you give and you give, and it’s never enough.”

Aronofski addicts will doubtless demur, but even if you share the writer-director’s spectacularly dark, simplistic views about the relations between the sexes, it would be hard not to be put off by his method of showing it. For all the visually arresting images, particularly during the horrific climax, Aronofski’s vision carries a depressingly superficial, almost adolescent edge.

Mother! opens in Durban on Friday, November 10.- Patrick Compton