Your interest in seeing “mother!,” the new psychological thriller from “Black Swan” director Darren Aronofsky, may be judged on your keenness to watch American sweetheart Jenifer Lawrence flush a beating heart down a toilet. Doesn’t appeal? Perhaps get your pulse racing with “It” instead. If it does, read on.
Lawrence and Javier Bardem are “mother” and “him,” a May-December married couple living in a remote and rambling countryside Victorian mansion. It’s a house with a history. Partially destroyed by a fire—which also claimed him’s first wife—the place has memories. Him, a poet, has been blocked ever since the fire, but finds solace in one of the few things to survive the blaze, a crystal that he now displays in his home office. Despite mother’s efforts to make the house a home—“I want to make a paradise,” she says.—a pall hangs over her wannabe Eden.
The weird factor amps up when a man (Ed Harris) shows and is invited by him to stay the night. He’s oddly antagonistic and inappropriate—“Your wife? I thought it was your daughter!”—but him treats him well, like a long lost friend. She feels like a third wheel in her own home.
The next day the stranger’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives, making herself at home. She asks unusual, probing questions—“Why don’t you want to have kids? I have kids. That is what’s gonna keep your marriage is growing.”—and likes to booze it up during the day. Mother, unable to understand the new guests or her husband’s behaviour toward them, is further alienated when their aggressive, argumentative sons (real life siblings Brian and Domhnall Gleeson) show up. It begins to feel like a home invasion rather than a visit.
Paranoia grows as Mother becomes pregnant and a celebratory dinner turns to violence and murder. That’s not a spoiler. ‘mother!” is so bonkers mere words on a page can barely do it justice. Is that my failing or the film’s?
Aronofsky makes movies that refuse to cater to audience expectations. “mother!” is an uncomfortable watch, an off-kilter experience that revels in its own madness. As the weight of the weirdness and religious symbolism begins to feel crushing, you may wonder what the hell is going on. Are these people guilty of being the worst houseguests ever or is there something bigger, something biblical going on?
Aronofsky is generous with the biblical allusions—the house is a paradise, the sons are clearly echoes of Cain and Abel, and there is a long sequence that can only be described as the Home-style Revelation—and builds toward a crescendo of wild action that has to be seen to be believed, but his characters are ciphers. Charismatic and appealing to a member, they feel like puppets in the director’s apocalyptic roadshow rather than characters we care about. Visually and thematically he doesn’t push button so much as he pokes the audience daring them to take the trip with him, it’s just too bad we didn’t have better company for the journey.
“mother!” is a deliberately opaque movie. Like looking into a self-reflective mirror you will take away whatever you put into it. The only thing sure about it is that it is most confounding studio movie of the year.