Mother! an over­whelm­ing ex­pe­ri­ence

Standard-Freeholder (Cornwall) - - ENTERTAINMENT - CHRIS KNIGHT ck­night@post­

Is Darren Aronof­sky’s new thriller a haunted-house story or a home-in­va­sion tale? Is it re­li­gious al­le­gory or just all gory? Is it play­ful, with that ex­cla­ma­tion mark that hits the screen with a “ding!” or is it angry, with scenes of Boschian ex­cess that you just want to tell it to shut the hell up?

The short an­swer is yes — Mother! is an as­sault on the senses that also tries to say some­thing about the hu­man con­di­tion, and par­tic­u­larly the ways in which self­ish­ness and ego can col­lide in the name of faith. It’s the think­ing per­son’s Rose­mary’s Baby. Un­for­tu­nately, it can be hard to think when it’s SHOUT­ING AT YOU.

The plot fea­tures a hus­band and wife, never named, and sep­a­rated by (as one char­ac­ter crassly puts it), a full gen­er­a­tion. Played by Jen­nifer Lawrence, the wife is busy re­build­ing and re­paint­ing the oddly oc­tag­o­nal house where her hus­band (Javier Bar­dem), lived un­til fire de­stroyed it. He’s a writer, cur­rently blocked.

She (let’s call her Jen­nifer), is of­ten gripped with some kind of dizzi­ness or con­fu­sion, although there’s a tinc­ture she can take for that. But there’s no cure for the weird­ness that un­folds when a doc­tor (Ed Har­ris), stum­bles on their home, mis­tak­ing it for a bed and break­fast. Jen­nifer is wary, but Javier in­vites the man to spend the night.

Un­for­tu­nately, the doc­tor makes him­self very much at home, to the point of invit­ing his wife (Michelle Pfeif­fer), to drop by the next day. In her wake come two brothers (Brian and Domh­nall Glee­son), whose squab­bles es­ca­late and mul­ti­ply un­til the house is full of odd­ball strangers who just won’t leave, and Jen­nifer is hav­ing what looks like a psy­chotic at­tack.

But that’s just the first act. In what I can only call a tes­ta­ment to Aronof­sky’s imag­i­na­tion, there’s an­other rev­e­la­tion com­ing. This one is set al­most nine months later, with Jen­nifer very preg­nant, her hus­band’s cre­ative pow­ers fully re­stored, and yet an­other group of un­wanted vis­i­tors bang­ing on the door.

The less said here the bet­ter, but all the cin­e­matic tricks Aronof­sky has used in the first half — close­ups, tightly framed hand­held shots in claus­tro­pho­bic rooms (don’t sit too near the screen), a su­per­cranked sound de­sign that in­cludes the house creak­ing and groan­ing and sigh­ing like an arthritic choir, half-com­pre­hen­si­ble echoes from other rooms, squishy liq­uids in un­ex­pected places — they’re all back in even greater force, along with vi­o­lence, sex­u­al­ity and lan­guage of the sort you’re only likely to hear again if they cast Sa­muel L. Jack­son in a re­make of Lord of the Flies.

It’s an al­most painful ex­pe­ri­ence, with Jen­nifer front and cen­tre as the au­di­ence sur­ro­gate in this night­mare sce­nario, her face a twisted gri­mace of fear and re­vul­sion that seemed over­done un­til I felt my jaw and re­al­ized I was do­ing pretty much the same thing my­self.

This is the di­rec­tor’s most pow­er­ful movie to date — it makes Noah look like a Sun­day-school pic­nic — but it’s a raw power, not con­tained by any­thing re­sem­bling re­al­is­tic, flesh-and-blood char­ac­ters. The emo­tion is there, as is the sym­bol­ism, but it’s not in the ser­vice of some­thing greater. And dis­ap­point­ingly, once you crack the movie’s metaphor­i­cal code, it ceases to sur­prise, if not to shock.

Per­haps co­in­ci­den­tally, this is the di­rec­tor’s first fea­ture in which he is also the sole writer. The re­sult is a movie in love with it­self. I’m glad I caught up with Mother! ,if only to join in the in­evitable de­bate about its wor­thi­ness — but un­like Aronof­sky’s The Wrestler and es­pe­cially Black Swan, I have no de­sire to see it again.


Jen­nifer Lawrence in the Darren Aronof­sky-di­rected film Mother!.

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