Jen­nifer Lawrence stuns in au­da­cious ‘mother!’


Women give, men take and the Old Tes­ta­ment crashes into mod­ern anx­i­ety in di­rec­tor Dar­ren Aronof­sky’s “mother! “It is an au­da­cious, bold and fas­ci­nat­ing fever dream of a film.

It’s al­le­gory for, well, ev­ery­thing (the en­vi­ron­ment, mar­riage, art, spir­i­tu­al­ity, you name it!), that will chal­lenge, dis­tress and ed­ify any­one who chooses to sub­mit them­selves to this cre­ation for two hours.

Like many Aronof­sky en­deav­ours, “mother!” is a film doesn’t fit neatly into one genre. It starts out as one thing, a sort of psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller and cham­ber drama about a cou­ple liv­ing in a stately and re­mote home, and de­volves grad­u­ally and then very sud­denly into jaw-dropping chaos that al­most seems to be test­ing the viewer.

How much of Jen­nifer Lawrence’s suf­fer­ing can you take be­fore cov­er­ing your eyes? Or storm­ing out of the theatre? “Mother!” will get un­der your skin, that’s a guar­an­tee.

This film begs for a view­ing un­en­cum­bered by lengthy sum­ma­riza­tion. It’s not that it de­fies ex­pla­na­tion, what hap­pens is fairly straight­for­ward as far as night­mare logic is con­cerned. But the less you know the bet­ter.

The set­ting is a grand Vic­to­rian home, plopped down in the mid­dle of a field sur­rounded by trees. There lives a mar­ried cou­ple (Lawrence and Javier Bar­dem), and it is peace­ful and bright.

It is an Eden dressed in Restora­tion Hard­ware linens that Lawrence’s char­ac­ter (who is cred­ited as “Mother” but never called that) has re­built for her hus­band (cred­ited as Him) from wall to wall after a dev­as­tat­ing fire burned it to the ground.

She is earthy and quiet and perches her head to the wall to lis­ten to the beat­ing heart of the home in or­der to find the right shade of yel­low for the space.

And then one night, a strange man (Ed Harris) comes to the door. Bar­dem’s char­ac­ter, a fa­mous poet suf­fer­ing from ex­treme writer’s block, in­vites him in, and the par­adise Mother has so painstak­ingly cre­ated be­gins to crum­ble.

The next day, the man’s wife (a wickedly funny Michelle Pfeif­fer) shows up too. Mother, while try­ing to be po­lite and a good host­ess and still con­tinue restor­ing her house, is also un­der­stand­ably be­wil­dered by the sud­den changes and her own hus­band’s ap­par­ent dis­in­ter­est in her ob­jec­tions to th­ese strangers oc­cu­py­ing their home.

For all the stress and anx­i­ety that “mother!” will in­spire in view­ers, this sec­tion is re­ally quite funny, hu­man and re­lat­able as Mother grap­ples with her ab­sent hus­band and rude house­guests who drink their liquor and break their valu­ables and ask in­va­sive ques­tions about why she doesn’t yet have chil­dren.

It is a host’s worst night­mare, and it only gets worse for poor Mother — the only sane per­son around who of course is pre­des­tined to be driven crazy by everyone else.

Aronof­sky has a spe­cial ap­pre­ci­a­tion for hy­per­bolic de­pic­tions of fe­male mad­ness and suf­fer­ing, whether it’s an ag­ing woman look­ing to lose a few pounds in “Re­quiem for a Dream,” a bal­le­rina striv­ing for per­fec­tion in “Black Swan,” or a wife just look­ing to make an im­pec­ca­ble home for the per­son she loves in “mother!”

It is a tense and ex­cit­ing film — one of Aronof­sky’s best — and Lawrence has never been bet­ter. Hers is a truly stun­ning and el­e­vated per­for­mance full of beauty, em­pa­thy and rage at her own pow­er­less­ness and the greed and ap­a­thy spi­ral­ing out of con­trol around her.

“Mother!” de­mands to be seen more than once, and after­ward dis­cussed and dis­sected. I’d also rec­om­mend tak­ing a look at the cred­its to see the names of the other char­ac­ters who come into their lives.

My heart has not stopped its anx­ious pound­ing, nor my head from spin­ning since see­ing this film. Mother, may I have a Xanax? “mother!” a Paramount Pic­tures re­lease, is rated R by the Mo­tion Pic­ture As­so­ci­a­tion of America for “strong dis­turb­ing vi­o­lent con­tent, some sex­u­al­ity, nu­dity and lan­guage.” Run­ning time: 121 min­utes. — Three and a half stars out of four.

The As­so­ci­ated Press

This im­age re­leased by Paramount Pic­tures shows Jen­nifer Lawrence in a scene from "mother!" It opens tonight at Land­mark Cin­e­mas in Pen­tic­ton.

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