Movies like “Mother!” are not allowed to exist. The studio system is in place precisely to keep movies this crazed, this passionate, this bold from reaching the masses. That’s what the art house is for. So how in God’s name did Darren Aronofsky get Paramount to greenlight his grand creation? Less a horror film and more an abridgment of the Bible — both Old Testament and New — into two hours of nightmarish allegory, “Mother!” is an incredible work of art sure to generate passion amongst all viewers. You can love it, you can hate it, but one thing is for sure: you most definitely will not be bored.
Featuring Jennifer Lawrence’s best performance in quite some time, the movie opens with husband Javier Bardem (referred to in the credits as “Him,” while she is “Mother”) seemingly repairing a burnt house by placing a gem in its stand. It is this house that Lawrence is painstakingly restoring, while he, a poet, attempts to work on his latest piece.
All is well until a stranger played by Ed Harris arrives. He claims to be a doctor. Soon his wife comes, played with passive aggression by Michelle Pfeiffer. The husband is warm and welcoming and though she acquiesces, it’s clear the wife would rather these intrusions leave her space. More people come. Soon the wife becomes pregnant. And that’s when Aronofsky tips his hand.
It’s pretty much impossible to talk further about “Mother!” without spoiling any of the plot. Suffice it to say, by the end it becomes an apocalyptic Boschian extravaganza, the full weight of Aronofsky’s ambition pushing everything into a higher realm. None of the characters have much definition, which helps because by this point everything has been abstracted to hell (including one shocking scene of symbolic cannibalism). This allows Lawrence to do some of her finest work — everything is in her face, her actions, and she puts her all into the performance that plays against her established type. At times, it’s quite funny to watch her meek attempt at controlling invading houseguests, and Aronofsky confines the camera almost entirely to her perspective. She’s either onscreen or her perspective is being shown to us almost every minute of the 121-minute runtime.
Elsewhere, Pfeiffer and Harris are clearly having fun with their roles, the former especially. She’s a force to be reckoned with as she waltzes in after her husband, uprooting Mother’s life. Harris is more subdued, playing the part of the mysterious guest who may have sinister ulterior motives. Bardem (whose age in relation to Lawrence does not go unremarked) plays his character as aloof and distant, but also kind. Needless to say, by the finale he’s an entirely different person. And at the top is Aronofsky, using every technique in the book to evoke his atmosphere: the audio comes from all around you, we see frequent glimpses of what looks like a heart, the camera swoops and flows around the house. The closest one can say is that by the end it becomes a perverse mix of “The Exterminating Angel” and Biblical debauchery.
“Mother!” will inspire strong reactions from everyone who sees it. For some, it’s currently among the best movies of the year; to others, pretentious nonsense done in by its metaphors. Either way, this is one you simply cannot ignore — it already has an “F” from noted pollster Cinemascore. This is surely the strangest, craziest piece of filmmaking to come out of a major studio in recent memory, and one that quite simply cannot be missed.