“mother!” begins as a weirdly arty home-invasion horror film that veers somewhere unexpected. Rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.
Oh my. Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” is not the movie you think it might be, nor is it like any you’ve seen (except, perhaps, a Darren Aronofsky movie).
On the surface, and in its first hour, it’s a weirdly arty home-invasion horror film, in which a young, unnamed wife (Jennifer Lawrence) is perplexed by the arrival of a very strange couple (Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer) at the remote Victorian home she shares with her writer husband (Javier Bardem). They are strangers but seem curiously intimate, and they don’t seem interested in leaving. And then … some other stuff happens.
I’m not going to get into that second half, because if “mother!” works at all, it works by going somewhere unexpected (and by completely overwhelming and exhausting its viewer). Suffice to say that Aronofsky seems to be making a statement, maybe, about what happens to art when it enters the mainstream. Or, maybe, about how our individual existences are fractured by a constant stream of digital “visitors.” Or maybe an Adam-and-Eve-in-Paradise allegory?
Movie Review ★★½
‘mother!,’ with Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer. Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky. 121 minutes. Rated R for strong disturbing violent content, some sexuality, nudity and language. Several theaters.
All these readings might be true, as might many others, including this: It’s an overwrought, pretentious film that’s mostly focused on torturing its lead character, both emotionally and (later on) physically. And yet, to say that is to dismiss how “mother!” mesmerizes, through an eerie sound design (dishwashing never sounded so terrifying), an atmosphere in which you can practically smell the dust of both age and newness, and a camera that seems to be perched on Lawrence’s shoulder, the better to capture fleeting glimpses of her soul. It’s a film that seems to unfold on the soft planes of her face: we’re either looking at her, or seeing things from her viewpoint, through a rushing camera that barely lets us register what we’re viewing.
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Lawrence is thoroughly appealing, as always, as a desperate everywoman, and Pfeiffer, with her salt-and-vinegar voice, is delicious in her strangely creepy role — she’s the only person on screen who seems to be having a bit of fun. (It’s a treat to see her back again, after a long absence from movies. How can it be possible that her Catwoman — who creeps into this role, just a bit — was 25 years ago?) But “mother!,” for this viewer, felt long and punishing; artful yet self-sabotaging, eventually crumbling. I never looked away — but I never want to see it again.