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Playing games with a young woman's mind
DARK and disturbing psychological thrillers are like putty in the hands of Darren Aronofsky, a director who delights in making films that f*** with our minds. In Mother!, he deep-dives into the psyche of a naive young woman whose idyllic existence with her husband, a celebrity poet going through a barren patch, is thrown into turmoil by a series of seemingly implausible events.
Aronofsky has previously tackled subject matter ranging from drug addiction (Requiem for A Dream, 2000) to classical ballet (Black Swan, 2010) to the Bible (Noah, 2014). His inspiration here derives in part at least from Rosemary's Baby (1968), a classic of psychological horror by Roman Polanski about a couple and the impending birth of their child.
Depending on the genre, a creaky, vaguely creepy old country house isolated from the outside world might be the setting for a murder mystery, a hostage drama or more likely a graphic slasher flick.
Here, it plays an essential if uncredited role as the home of an unnamed woman (Jennifer Lawrence) and her much-older, also unnamed husband (Javier Bardem).
It emerges that the house burned down previously and has been recently rebuilt and renovated by the woman, a home decorator with a design sensibility straight out of Country Style magazine.
But whenever she's alone - which is often - the walls and floorboards seem to speak to her, whispering about unspecified terrible transgressions in the past.
Meanwhile, her husband is experiencing a severe case of writer's block such that, odd creaky floorboards aside, the silence between them is deafening. Then a stranger (Ed Harris) in search of a place to stay arrives and the two men hit it off immediately. The young woman is perturbed by the ease with which the stranger is welcomed, and her fears are compounded when the man's rude and disrespectful wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up to stay as well.
The natural order of things is affected and all manner of doubts spring up in the bewildered young woman's mind. The stranger turns out to be a terminally ill fan of the poet who purposely sought him out. Then a clogged toilet in the guest room reveals something sinister.
The last straw occurs when the houseguests from hell defy her request not to enter the poet's study and then proceed to carelessly break a mysterious crystal that he had salvaged from the ruins of his original house.
The situation spirals further out of control when the guests' sons (Domhnall Gleeson and Brian Gleeson) add to the uninvited guest list, then argue violently and physically wrestle over their father's will in the hallway and living room. Calamity ensues and a bloody stain in the floorboard simply refuses to go away - nobody except the young woman notices, of course.
The final act in Mother! is characterised by total anarchy, where one scene is only loosely connected to the next. Aronofsky, who also wrote the script, has proven to be a past master at depicting delusional behaviour - he did it to better effect in Black Swan - but here, he seems to be trying too hard to impress.
Religious symbolism, an artist's ego and celebrity worship are all at play and just some of the issues he uses to batter the audience with. Everything is seen from the perspective of the young wife, trying desperately (like us) to keep from being completely overwhelmed. In the end, it's enough to drive anyone crazy.