It’s the houseguests from hell in writer-director Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, the bonkers “mother!” starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a couple living in an isolated, rambling country house, who have to contend with some rambunctious invaders.
Based off the trailer and poster, many have surmised that this is Aronofsky’s tribute to “Rosemary’s Baby,” and there are similarities: the waifish young blonde wife (Lawrence), the egotistical artist husband (Bardem), the overbearing older couple (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer), who make themselves at home despite the discomfort of the subservient, passive bride.
The films share character types and the theme of pregnancy and parenthood, but “mother!” is possessed of a raucous, wild energy that builds to a riotous crescendo, and the villain here is not Satan, but unchecked humanity itself. There’s more than enough evil to go around with the people who assemble in this home.
Cinematically, “mother!” is an expertly executed wild ride. Aronofsky keeps the audience focused completely on the subjective experience of Lawrence’s unnamed young wife, as unwanted guests invade her sanctuary, a huge, lonely Victorian mansion. The camera follows her as she walks throughout the house, grants us access to her point of view, moves uncomfortably close for nearly abstract close ups of the dewy planes of Lawrence’s face. The overlapping sound design is note perfect. Footfalls take on the tenor of gunshots, voices signal danger, and always, she experiences an overwhelming ringing in her ears.
Lawrence is remarkably restrained throughout the first two-thirds of the film, as the perfect little wife too polite for her own good. She modulates her tone, and never gets mad enough at her rude intruders. When she finally, finally screams, “Get out of my house!” it’s a cathartic experience for her, and the audience.
The film does go completely off the rails at a point where you expect it to end, after all of its exhausting mayhem. But Aronofsky pushes it completely to the limit, drains every drop in the same way that his leading lady does. Lawrence’s press tour has detailed the physical challenges and injuries of this shoot, and Aronofsky holds nothing back. There are some sickeningly violent images that are deeply uncomfortable to watch and toe the line of decency.
Critics were provided with a director’s statement to be read before the film, elucidating what was on Aronofsky’s mind when he coughed up the screenplay for “mother!” over the course of five feverish days of writing. But the best way to see this film is knowing as little as possible. When we’re clued into Aronofsky’s thought process, it leads to a sense that his metaphor is a little too on-the-nose as we plunge into the absolutely insane climax of the film.
However, what makes “mother!” brilliant is that it is open enough to read and project your own experiences onto it, which makes it deeply personal and universal. More than any metaphor about the state of the world, “mother!” is a film about being in a relationship with a narcissist: someone who takes and takes and takes all of your love down to the very last drop without ever giving anything back. Any viewer can place their own experiences on top of this story, and ultimately, hopefully, honestly consider what it fully means to give, and to take.
3 out of 4 stars
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kristen Wiig
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Running time: 2 hours
Rated R for strong disturbing violent content, some sexuality, nudity and language.