MOTHER! Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem,  Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Brian and Domhnall Gleeson. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Rated MA 15+ (Strong themes, violence and coarse language).115 min.

This American horror film is about a young woman living in an old country house, which is visited by a strange couple that bring horror with them. The film is written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, who directed the award winning “Black Swan” (2010). The movie can lay claim to be a controversial film that pushes the envelope of cinematic restraint, particularly in its final moments, where viewers have to cope with watching a baby being eaten.

A young woman (Jennifer Lawrence, as Mother) lives with her older husband-writer (Javier Bardem, as Him) in a remote country house in the US. They appear to be living a peaceful existence, but all is not right. Him is pathologically egocentric and is undergoing a writer’s block, while Her is obsessively restoring the house, wanting the house “to be a paradise” for Him. They relate to each other in a loving, but also in an aggressive way.

A mysterious couple (first, Ed Harris, as Man; and then Michelle Pfeiffer, as Woman) come calling, uninvited into their home, wanting to lodge with them. Him encourages them, saying they have “come to see him”. Later, other people (including the couple’s two sons - Brian and Domhnall Gleeson), arrive to share the same house. Shortly afterwards, still others arrive to participate actively in the escalating horror. The house is destroyed eventually by the strangers, in preparation

for life to have “a new beginning”. One searches for allegories that might give meaning to it all.

The basement wall in the house is leaking blood; live organs are swimming in the toilet; voices shriek behind the walls; and violence erupts in a particularly gruesome way as the strangers flood into the house. The film is almost entirely composed of shots that focus on Jennifer Lawrence and what she sees and hears, resulting in a graphic movie that is startlingly intimate. The camera hardly lets Lawrence out of its sight, and the film is nearly always from her perspective. We see her apprehension shading into fear and anxiety, and then into outright panic. This is a grim, horrifying film that delivers its shocks forcefully, and startlingly. It explores the personal, physical, and psychological havoc that “strangers” bring into other people’s world.

The title of the film is one word. The emotion aroused is accentuated by the word’s exclamation mark, indicating that people are being “marked” for something terrible. The degree of delirium, that characterise the attacks on victims remind one strongly of Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” (1965) and “Rosemary's Baby” (1968) in the film’s treatment of evil, and of Luis Bunuel’s “Exterminating Angel” (1962) in its depiction of the impossibility of escape.

This is a horror movie that is too violent and horrible to ever contemplate enjoying, but as a horror film, one must comment on how Darren Aronofsky chooses to direct his film in the horror genre. True to form, Aronofsky tempts the viewer with the hypothesis that Mother is deeply disturbed - as also those around her. But the theme of disturbance is pursued in an extreme way: Him is pathologically obsessed with seeking the adoration of others - for a reason that is known by those who come calling. Man is too familiar with the occupants of the house, and has known Him;  Woman intrudes pathologically into the intimacy of Him and Her; and Her slips from obsessiveness, to dark hallucinations that take her into full blown paranoia. Aronofsky plays cleverly with the theme of isolation where victims are unable to get help, or even to ask for it, and horror reigns unchecked with no possible link to the outside world.  

The film is not for anyone inclined to be squeamish in any way, and it redefines the playing field for modern horror cinema. It defies expectations about the genre, and exults in sharing its horror. The film is open to multiple interpretations of meaning, has satanic and religious overtones, and plays recklessly with time. Aronofsky lets his creative fantasies exhibitionistically run riot in a original way, and this movie asks the viewer indulgently to share His fantasies. 

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Paramount Pictures

Released September 14th., 2017

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