FILM REVIEW – MOTHER! With Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Brian Gleeson. Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky. Rated R for strong disturbing violent content, some sexuality, nudity, and language. 121 minutes.
After a summer of superheroes and sequels, the fall movie season brings us back to the year’s other big trend: the metaphor movie. These are allegories where, if you take the story literally, you miss the point. Two of the best films of the spring were about something other than their supposed storylines. People who saw “Colossal” as a movie about a woman struggling with the fact that a giant monster is mimicking her in South Korea or “Get Out” about the problem of upper-class white families in the suburbs conducting medical experiments couldn’t see the forest for the trees.
Which brings us to MOTHER!. It is a film that is likely to divide audiences not the least of which because writer/director Darren Aronofsky not only doesn’t explain anything, but keeps misleading viewers. People who think they’ve walked into a conventional horror movie aren’t going to know what hit them.
It begins Jennifer Lawrence (all of the film’s characters are unnamed–check out the closing credits) waking up in bed in an old house that apparently is being rebuilt after a horrendous fire. She is married to a poet (Javier Bardem), who has had a very successful book but is now suffering writer’s block. He spends the days trying to write while she slowly repairs and decorates the house. One night, a mysterious man (Ed Harris) comes to their door, thinking it’s a bed and breakfast. Without consulting his wife, the poet invites him to spend the night. Strange things start happening, often just out of earshot of the woman. You begin to think we’re in “Gaslight” territory, as she is being manipulated for some reason.
The arrival of the stranger’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) adds more tension, as her actions and words are intrusive and inappropriate. What is going on? There’s more, much more, and nothing described so far can prepare you for it. Aronofsky has created a work that plays as if Guillermo del Toro was directing a play by Harold Pinter. The dialogue is about as much about what’s unsaid as what is, and characters arrive at the house as if they belong there. Indeed, Lawrence is made to feel the outsider, frequently being asked by these strangers, “Who are you?”
What is it a metaphor for? That would be telling and, in fact, it’s possible to read the film in a number of ways, whether for the life of a creator of art or the life of the Creator of everything. Is Lawrence suppose to represent the spouse of an artist, a skeptic among religious fanatics, or simply a woman trying to protect her home from the outside world? Critics and fans of the film will have plenty to argue about for years to come.
The principal actors succeed even though they are less playing characters than attitudes and negative forces. If you go see “Mother!” you should go in knowing you may be shocked, you may be angered, and you will certainly be left with more questions than answers. If you take the chance, you will be rewarded with one of the most challenging films all year.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.