Be­yond Lawrence, ‘Mother!’ is just a pile of ex­cess

Do­mes­tic drama be­comes night­mare to en­dure on screen

Pawtucket Times - - FILM - By ANN HORNADAY

'Mother!," Dar­ren Aronof­sky's tour de force of al­le­gor­i­cal mis­di­rec­tion, is about many things, in suc­ces­sion and si­mul­ta­ne­ously. What be­gins as a creep­ily in­sin­u­at­ing cham­ber piece of do­mes­tic dis­cord quickly takes on more metaphor­i­cal mean­ings, with drama giv­ing way to out­right hor­ror: Here, a para­ble of mar­i­tal anx­i­ety be­comes a lurid, Bosch­like med­i­ta­tion on en­vi­ron­men­tal de­struc­tion, idol­a­try and — ul­ti­mately — blind de­vo­tion to a greedy and in­sa­tiable god.

Mostly, though, this in­trigu­ing but ul­ti­mately frus­trat­ingly undis­ci­plined ex­per­i­ment is about Jen­nifer Lawrence, who proves once again what a su­per­nat­u­ral screen pres­ence she is, de­liv­er­ing a per­for­mance of trans­parency, still­ness, phys­i­cal grit and self-sac­ri­fic­ing courage. As the enig­matic ti­tle char­ac­ter, she's our sur­ro­gate and guide through the highly charged en­vi­ron­ment Aronof­sky has con­ceived: In this case, it's an el­e­gant Vic­to­rian house, stand­ing re­gally in a serene field, that Lawrence's char­ac­ter is restor­ing as an idyl­lic home and cre­ative co­coon for her hus­band, a fa­mous poet played by Javier Bar­dem.

Fans of "The Shin­ing" will think they have "Mother!" sussed when Bar­dem turns out to be blocked and when Lawrence's wary but ra­di­ant hero­ine be­gins to sense a beat­ing heart un­der­neath the house's sturdy bones. But then a strange cou­ple — played in wickedly ob­ser­vant turns by Ed Har­ris and Michelle Pfeif­fer — shows up, in­ject­ing a ma­lign, an­ar­chic force rem­i­nis­cent of Sid­ney Black­mer and Ruth Gor­don in "Rosemary's Baby."

And, yes, a Polan­skian air of ma­ter­nal dread — the pri­mal fear of loss of con­trol and pri­vacy — suf­fuses "Mother!," which at its most as­tute and provoca­tive could be a mir­ror to Aronof­sky's own am­biva­lence about fame. Specif­i­cally, he seems to be ze­ro­ing in on au­teur wor­ship, par­a­sitic fan­dom and women play­ing muse, ves­sel and pro­tec­tive space-maker for male ge­nius. Lawrence, who ex­udes a stun­ning com­bi­na­tion of in­no­cence and watch­ful wis­dom, pads through the char­ac­ters' eight-sided house with the same alarm as Mia Far­row four decades ago, but also with more as­sur­ance and self-pos­ses­sion as the stakes of her fight be­come not just higher, but sur­re­ally so.

But even Lawrence's mag­netic pow­ers can't keep "Mother!" from go­ing off the rails, which at first oc­curs cu­mu­la­tively, then in a mad rush dur­ing the film's out­landish cli­max. Shot by Aronof­sky's fre­quent cin­e­matog­ra­pher Matthew Li­ba­tique with the in­ti­mate close-ups fa­mil­iar from "Black Swan" and "The Fighter," this is a movie whose sense of claus­tro­pho­bia be­comes woozily sti­fling, its dream­like shots and pans, al­ways from Lawrence's point of view, grow­ing more nau­se­at­ing by the minute.

As the vis­ual lan­guage be­comes in­creas­ingly night­mar­ish, the mes­sage of "Mother!" be­comes ex­po­nen­tially more ob­scure. There's a Cain-and-Abel sub­plot sug­gest­ing that Aronof­sky wasn't fin­ished with the Old Tes­ta­ment af­ter his 2014 movie "Noah," but then again, maybe this is his own vis­cer­ally graphic ver­sion of the Je­sus story. Or, as he has in­ti­mated in com­ments to the press, per­haps this is the cri de coeur of an artist over­whelmed by en­vi­ron­men­tal, so­cial and cul­tural de­struc­tion.

Which­ever it is, "Mother!" seems as­sured to di­vide the film­maker's fans, many of whom will cel­e­brate an­other au­da­cious state­ment from a master of cin­ema as dream­scape of our dark­est un­con­scious, but some of whom will think he misses the mark in the in­ter­est of pulp ex­cess and flam­boy­ance. Wher­ever you land on that spec­trum, it's dif­fi­cult to ar­gue that, while it lasts, "Mother!" flies its freak flag with in­ten­sity that is brac­ing, febrile and un­com­pro­mis­ing.

Two stars. Rated R. Con­tains strong dis­turb­ing vi­o­lent con­tent, some sex­u­al­ity, nu­dity and ob­scen­ity. 121 min­utes.

Rat­ings Guide: Four stars mas­ter­piece, three stars very good, two stars OK, one star poor, no stars waste of time.

Niko Tav­ernise/Paramount Pic­tures — Pro­to­zoa Pic­tures

Jen­nifer Lawrence in "Mother!"

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