mother!




**** (out of five)

Darren Aronofsky’s phantasmagoric fantasia on art, fame, success, religion, politics and the cult of celebrity erupts relentlessly and furiously. It is the angriest, most dynamic film I’ve seen this year, and probably the best film hailing from the US (although it seems to have been shot in Quebec).

A fable or parable rather than a story centred in anything close to realism, utilising horror elements including an honest-to-goodness haunted house, mother! – the lower-case “m” and the exclamation mark are specific – is a wild and mesmerising ride, and should leave most engaged viewers with plenty to chew on. It is full of ideas.

Jennifer Lawrence plays “mother”, married to “Him”, played by Javier Bardem in a role that is perfectly suited to his bulky, über-masculine and tremendously charismatic middle age. They live in his gorgeous old Victorian house in the middle of the woods; she is restoring it after it was decimated in a fire; he – a celebrated poet (!) – is trying to break a serious case of writer’s block. They have no children, and seem happy despite a certain frostiness and a rather blatant discrepancy in their power dynamic. Then, one day, completely out of the blue, a “man” (Ed Harris) knocks on the front door, and their lives start turning to shit.

Aronofsky and his cinematographer Matthew Libatique, shooting on handheld Super 16 Millimetre, have made a massive and sustained choice, which is to shoot about 85% of the film – that’s my conservative estimate – directly in front of Lawrence’s face or directly behind her head, gluing us to her and her point of view. It is effective, to be sure, but also frustrating, as her head looms so large, mostly in the centre of the frame, that it becomes irritating – you want to push it out of the way. I even wondered if the device was giving me a minor headache, combined, as it is, with a single, pretty dark location (the interiors of the old, gloomy, wooden house), a camera that literally never stops moving, and the grain of the 16mm film. This choice, and this effect, certainly were to the detriment of my enjoyment.

As for everything else, though – it’s pretty wonderful. This is delirious, obsessive auteurism at its most enabled: you’ve got budget, the world’s “biggest female star”, and the seeming complete lack of any control outside of the creator’s whims. It is a direct portal into the author’s soul – and at this level, some may be disturbed in a way that has nothing to do with any of the film’s creepy imagery or performances. The fact is that in the real world, Lawrence and Aronofsky are now in a relationship. There are twenty-two years between them, which aligns pretty well with the age gap between Lawrence and Bardem. And Aronofsky has a ten year old son from a previous relationship. All this taken together may make mother! a deeply personal movie, and the more personal it is to Aronofsky’s life and interior beliefs, the more disturbing it is. Indeed, if one was to take a particular reading of the film – and one which is certainly there to be read – one could only conclude that Aronofsky was a monster of vanity, ego and self-obsession.

I’m not sure it’s that. Knowing some of the things that have happened to Lawrence – such as naked photos of her being published without her permission – I think the director’s main target here is modern, obsessive fandom and its relationship to modern, idiotic notions of celebrity. He takes this, ties it to Jesus, throws in Cain and Abel and a bunch of other biblical stuff (he directed Noah, don’t forget, and Bardem’s character is specifically called “Him” with a capital “H”) and sprinkles our current, insane moment in political history on top. Essentially, the film is a furious attack on the world we’ve created for ourselves, and asks a pretty simple question: Why in hell would anyone want to bring a child into that?

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Hey! You can WATCH THIS review!

Cecil B. DeLighted

NOAH **

noahMy initial hesitation about Noah was the source material. Amidst a lot of silly stories in the bible, that of Noah is one of the silliest. If you don’t agree it’s probably time you read it again: it’s Genesis 5:32 – 10:1.

That’s a short passage in biblical terms, and writer / director Darren Aronofsky has made a long movie in modern terms, though not in terms of the history of biblical movies, which have traditionally been long (The Ten Commandments started at 1pm on most Sundays of my youth, and never finished until about seven the next morning; it was always a pain to try and watch only the Red Sea parting, which was the only reason to try and watch the film).

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS... the one bit that's any good.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS… the one bit that’s any good.

I would never have gone, therefore, to Noah, were it not for Aronofsky. Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan are both in my personal Top 50 of All Time, so he’s a director that I’ll always see. But boy, was I reticent. I didn’t even see The Passion of the Christ, and that was meant to be out there. Why would I see the dumb bible on-screen? But I did.

Aronofsky lets you know from the get-go that he’s going to show you “a story”. Using big CGI monsters (“The Watchers”, which are to stone what those big tree-men in The Lord of The Rings were to bark), sped-up film, silhouette, overexposure, obvious green-screen, a narrated, cartoonish prologue and a hundred and one other tricks, this artful director lets you in on his artifice. We’re not trying to be real here, he sees to be saying. This is just a fun story. As such, it plays not dissimilar to an animated feature.

noahs-beaver-problemMy big problem is I never care in animated features, and I found it impossible to care here, because the story is so – well, silly – and the characters are also – well, silly – lumbered with dialogue that’s really silly. As the extremely dull (and confusing!) set-up droned on, complete with long-white-haired-and-bald Anthony Hopkins havin’ a cuppa tea with Russ, it became obvious that caring for anything happening was never going to happen, at least for me.

Perhaps if I was a true believer – a literalist – it might have helped. The problems of old-school bible movies unfortunately are here in abundance. Just like that parting of the red sea, the flood is the only good bit here, and that’s the bit you’ll be waiting for when Noah plays on the telly for eons to come.

Oh, and Big Russ? He’s fine. He’s got Charlton Heston lines and he does what Charlton Heston would do: speak gravely and deeply, look very concerned, and squint.Noah_Russell_Crowe