Darren Aronofsky makes films that emotionally and thematically aim for the rafters; however, his recent film- Mother, endeavours for the stratosphere and beyond. The picture is a potently off-kilter Gothic infused Ibsen chamber piece about the battle between the ego and nurture, which is remarkably filtered through the prism of the creative process and creation.
Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence play nameless characters but can be appropriately referred to as “The Poet” and “The Muse” respectively. They are a couple in the midst of the doldrums of domesticity and artistic woe; as the pair grapples with renovating their recently burnt down house and the prospect of crippling writer’s block. Their seemingly quiet existence is disrupted by the arrival of two strangers whose intrusion are a prelude to a series of erratic events.
Bardem’s seductive European charm is subverted here in favour of something far more primal and unnerving as the character exists on a monumental pedestal of adoration. His moments of unbridled rage and quiet intensity walk hand in hand in creating a portrait of a man who never feels quite right. Whereas, Jennifer Lawrence’s performance impresses in its subdued power, due to the young actress convincingly imbuing the character’s alienation, loneliness, and brittleness with breathtaking believability and power.
In fact, through extensive uses of handheld shots, Aronofsky frames “The Muse” like a fragile and precious porcelain doll. At once, Lawrence’s character is an embodiment of inspiration and maternity. Her fierce protection of home and domestic existence palpably resonates with a universality that transcends metaphorical subtext.
Aronofsky’s films have always had one foot in theological exploration: whether it was his last movie, Noah that took the long-standing Biblical epic to deliver intimate and haunting deliberations on humankind. Or his audacious 2006 film- The Fountain, in which the American auteur melded pivotal Biblical stories and themes to illustrate man’s eternal preoccupation with love and mortality.
The fundamental issue with Mother is that Aronofsky tries too hard to meld Biblical themes with the central contentions of the narrative. As conceived, the film is an exploration of the pursuit of the artistic life for the sole purpose of nourishing ego and self-worth. At the same time, the conflict of ego and nurture vividly reveals the tension of man and woman’s mark upon the world. Because Bardem’s character can’t take credit for producing life, he must create works of art that imprint a lasting meaning for people. Whereas, Lawrence’s character instead wants a simple life where she can take care of her home, husband and eventual children. The tension of this central clash lends the film with a ubiquitous emotional truth.
However, the ending of the picture undermines this central idea to frustrating and inane effect. Not only is it the storytelling equivalent of the rugged being pulled out from under you, but it also feels like Aronofsky is trying to have his Biblical cake and eat it too, as it seeks to put the story in a perpetual one-note metaphorical bubble. This is a shame as there are many instances when Mother is the most engaging and soul-bearing experience that the cinema has provided all year.
There is a scene where Bardem’s Poet character is admiring a beautifully lavish crystal object. Featuring the complete absence of a musical score, along with the use of natural lighting and strikingly foreboding set design, Mother is directed with the meticulous construction of the sumptuous object that Bardem’s character treasures. It’s too bad that Aronofsky seems determined to let his film smash into tiny bits of incomprehensibility as opposed to lovingly preserve its spirited boldness.