Ma­ni­a­cal ‘mother!’ will blow your mind

Raw, roil­ing tale is a beau­ti­ful piece of art-house hor­ror

USA TODAY International Edition - - LIFE - BRIAN TRUITT

Dar­ren Aronof­sky un­leashes the mother of au­da­cious art films this year, and mother! is bound to po­lar­ize the masses who give this slice of win­ning in­san­ity a go.

The lat­est in a fil­mog­ra­phy that in­cludes a ter­ri­fy­ingly dark bal­le­rina (Black Swan) and a down­ward-spi­ral­ing pro grap­pler (The Wrestler), mother!

out of four; rated R; in the­aters na­tion­wide Fri­day) man­ages to be the writer/direc­tor’s bold­est yet: a tale of re­la­tion­ship tur­moil and a genre-ex­plod­ing show­case for its star, Jen­nifer Lawrence. But Aronof­sky isn’t sub­tle with the deeper mean­ings. Im­pend­ing moth­er­hood is seen through a hor­ror-movie lens, there are enough re­li­gious metaphors for a par­tic­u­larly strange Sun­day school class, and mother! thrives most as a thought­ful, an­gry look at mod­ern so­ci­ety.

The first act, how­ever, is se­date in com­par­i­son with the roil­ing mad­ness that awaits its au­di­ence later. Lawrence plays the mother in the ti­tle, who lives for fix­ing up a huge es­tate in the sticks with her older hus­band (Javier Bar­dem), a fa­mous poet la­beled “Him” in the cred­its. He strug­gles to find in­spi­ra­tion for his writ­ing, while she in many ways be­comes one with the house amid their peace­ful iso­la­tion.

That tran­quil­ity is torn asun­der one night when a stranger (Ed Har­ris) knocks on their door, think­ing the place is a bed and break­fast. The man strikes up a quick friend­ship with Him, who lets him stay the night and also in­vites in the guy’s wife (Michelle Pfeif­fer) when she shows up.

(This is prob­a­bly a good time to ex­plain that no char­ac­ter in the movie has a real name, and most are low­er­case: Har­ris and Pfeif­fer — who steals every scene with icy ar­ro­gance — are cred­ited as “man” and “woman,” and sup­port­ing char­ac­ters in­clude a zealot, neo­phyte, pen­i­tent, healer and sol­dier. Only Bar­dem’s Him gets proper cap­i­tal­iza­tion, a nod to the Chris­tian un­der­pin­nings of the story and the celebrity poet’s sta­tus within the con­text of the film.)

The new­com­ers turn out to be house­guests from hell, and their pres­ence cre­ates an in­creased ex­as­per­a­tion for Lawrence’s char­ac­ter, who re­ally just wants to be left alone with her hubby. Pfeif­fer is the ab­so­lute worst, ques­tion­ing the lady of the house about her un­der­wear choices, in­ti­macy is­sues and the lack of ru­grats run­ning around.

More ran­dom peo­ple in­ex­pli­ca­bly start show­ing up, enough to drive mother crazy as she drives them all out. A quiet mo­ment leads to her fi­nally get­ting preg­nant. Yet that just ig­nites the flames that en­velop the rest of the film, which turns into a dizzy­ing ar­ray of sex, vi­o­lence, death, de­struc­tion, sac­ri­fice and pri­mal in­stincts, with Him be­com­ing an idol for wor­shipers and mother fight­ing for her and her un­born child’s sur­vival.

The waves of dis­turb­ing im­agery and hellish bac­cha­na­lia earn

mother! its ex­cla­ma­tion point and leave the viewer drown­ing in sym­bol­ism. It gets un­der the skin and re­fuses to leave; Aronof­sky tosses a higher-con­cept grenade that waits a bit to blow your mind.

Lawrence’s per­for­mance grounds the more out-there as­pects of mother! The au­di­ence is with her, in sick­ness and in health, more so than her hus­band, and we feel every bit of her bloody pain and pathos. Im­pres­sive in its am­bi­tion,

mother! doesn’t quite reach the heights of Aronof­sky’s Black

Swan in terms of bizarre mas­ter­pieces, yet end­less con­ver­sa­tions about what the heck you just saw will surely be born and raised.

NIKO TAVERNISE

A tran­quil home life in the coun­try turns into a fight for sur­vival for Jen­nifer Lawrence’s ti­tle char­ac­ter and her un­born child.

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