‘Never let strange men into your house’ is one of the lessons taught by mother!, and while that might be a point made by many a horror film (as well as any responsible parent), mother! is as far from your usual home invasion thriller as you can get. This is, after all, un film de Darren Aronofsky, the writer and director behind such psychologically warped movies as Pi, Requiem for a Dream, and Black Swan.
Jennifer Lawrence stars as mother, the wife of Javier Bardem’s Him, an acclaimed poet. They live in a beautiful house in the centre of a lush green field. Him is struggling with writer’s block, and one day lets in a visitor, Man (Ed Harris). mother immediately takes against Man, who smokes indoors, drinks heavily, and ignores any polite requests to follow house rules. But it soon gets worse when Man’s wife, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), becomes the second uninvited guest. And then their sons show up...
These events all take place in the first half of the film, and there are several more developments, but to describe them would firstly be very difficult, and secondly spoil the experience of discovering them for yourself. It’s fair to say, however, that the house becomes an increasingly oppressive environment for mother, as each new guest adds to the ruination of her paradise. Some truly shocking moments come towards the end of the film, as Aronofsky takes the character’s torment to levels you can’t quite believe were allowed to be shot; nevertheless, it’s a difficult film to look away from, thanks to a mesmerising performance from Lawrence, who’s on screen almost all the time, her face conveying a powerful mix of hopelessness and anger that anchors us emotionally through the increasingly surreal events.
The shocks aren’t there for the sake of it, though; this rich tapestry of a film can be interpreted how you like – perhaps as a Biblical allegory, as a meditation on the corrosive nature of fame and ego, or as a condemnation of humanity’s destruction of nature. Or you can just enjoy being taken on an intense fever dream, startlingly realised by a filmmaker at the top of his game. If you caught mother! in the cinema, it’s well worth revisiting now it’s available in home media to see what else you can pick up; and if you skipped it on first run, perhaps the more horrifying moments are more palatable from the comfort of your sofa anyway.
The DVD special features are interesting, if not comprehensive. The Downward Spiral is a half-hour behind the scenes doc, with some interesting insights from figures such as Aronofsky and producer Ari Handel, while a short featurette tells us about the film’s impressive make-up effects.
MOTHER! / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: DARREN ARONOFSKY / STARRING: JENNIFER LAWRENCE, JAVIER BARDEM, ED HARRIS, MICHELLE PFEIFFER, DOMNHALL GLEESON / RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 22ND