Writer-director Darren Aronofsky is a nut, and his latest film, Mother!, is one helluva nutty movie.
Jennifer Lawrence is currently dating Aronofsky, a fact that infiltrates the mood of Mother! because the film takes unabashedly nasty aim at relationships—among its many targets. Those targets also include the Bible, narcissism, celebrity, art, family, smoking and, oh, yeah, motherhood. By the time it’s over, you might not know exactly what went down, but you know that it landed on the side of cynicism—highly stylized, lunatic, entertaining cynicism.
Lawrence plays Mother, an apparently kindhearted partner to Him (Javier Bardem). They live in an old-style country house out in the middle of nowhere. Him is a writer, going through some major writer’s block and occasionally speaking of having lost everything in the past to a fire. He has some sort of crystalized object on a stand that he claims empowered him to move on after the fire. It’s in a room nobody is allowed to enter alone.
They live a quiet life in their little Eden, Mother preparing meals while Him tortures himself, unable to produce a single word for his next great work. Then, there’s a knock at the door. It’s Man (Ed Harris), soon to be followed by Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), a strange couple who wind up houseguests thanks to Him’s hospitality, and much to the chagrin of Mother.
Man and Woman invade Mother’s space, with Man huffing cigarettes and frequently vomiting from illness while Woman swills alcohol and asks Mother extremely personal questions. Eventually, Man and Woman’s two sons show up and, if you’ve read the Bible, you can perhaps guess what happens when the whole family is under one roof. After a rage-inspired sex session, Mother becomes pregnant, and Him is suddenly fertile with ideas. He writes his next big thing, and their home is besieged by agents, fans, religious zealots, paparazzi, former SNL cast members, policemen, soldiers, terrorists and fire. If there’s a takeaway from Mother!, it’s that Aronofsky doesn’t have the most pleasant attitudes toward celebrity and Sunday school.
Lawrence delivers her rawest, sometimes angriest performance to date. Her character starts off placid and collected, but as more people show up and more things get broken in her home, Lawrence gets a chance to ratchet things up to psychotic levels. There’s something seething under the surface with Mother, and Him’s refusal to kick the invaders out of their home brings it to the surface.
Bardem brings a “golly gosh, gee whiz” quality to Him, interspersed with his own scary outbursts. I think both Lawrence and Bardem went to therapy after wrapping this one. Harris is great as the first unwanted guest, clearly dying from something but still able to do naughty things with the wife while the door’s open. Pfeiffer owns her role in a way that marks her best work in years. She only has a few scenes, but all of them, especially one with Mother in the laundry room, leave a mark. The same can be said for Kristen Wiig, who takes a few minutes of screen time in a late-in-the-film appearance and kills it.
This is Aronofsky’s second take on Biblical themes. He treated the story of Noah like it was The Lord of the Rings a few years back, and now he’s treating it like Rosemary’s Baby meets The Shining. The film deals with creation in a way that ties into art, the universe, broken sinks and being left out of somebody’s will. At times, it’s absolute chaos, but Aronofsky, the master behind Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan and The Fountain (another of his creationism meditations), keeps it all under control. Longtime collaborator Matthew Libatique provides impeccable cinematography yet again, making a total rebellion inside a country home look somehow realistic and perhaps even possible.
If you like your stories and scares straightforward, there’s a good chance Mother! will frustrate you. However, if you’ve been having recent conversations about the puzzler that was David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, and you’ve watched Aronofsky’s The Fountain more than once, Mother! might be right up your alley.