Your “mother!” would not recommend

Jared Skinner,  Features Writer

Director Darren Aronofsky earns the exclamation point attached to the title of his latest movie “mother!” The symbol lingers after the title is displayed on screen, a forewarning of the capacious lunacy and psychodrama that will unfold across the movie’s runtime.

Aronofsky is known for making artistic statements and utilizing a daring style in films like “Requiem for a Dream” and “Black Swan” but this is his most audacious effort yet. The story begins as a contained psychological thriller. A woman credited as “Mother” (Jennifer Lawrence) and her famous poet of a husband “Him” (Javier Bardem) live in a supernal home seemingly isolated from civilization. We see very early on that Lawrence is attached in a deep and organic way to the house she tends to and seems to lovingly pour herself into the painstaking process of rebuilding it exactly to her husband’s liking ever since its recent destruction in a fire.

The action is propelled by the arrival of a couple played by a wonderfully loose and commanding Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer. Javier Bardem enthusiastically invites them in and offers them a place to stay. It is in these scenes that actors portray their craft in a masterfully subdued way. Every word Bardem speaks seems to register as a stab of betrayal on Lawrence’s face and he always seems to say the right things to appease her, while still rubbing us in the wrong way.

From here the movie begins to unravel both stylistically and narratively, leaving the audience frantically trying to grasp at anything as we descend with Lawrence’s character into a nightmarish and chaotic abyss not unlike a Hieronymus Bosch painting. The cinematography and directorial style skillfully reveal this to us solely from Lawrence’s point of view with every shot in the movie either a POV or reaction shot. This adds to the intense disorientation especially in the movie’s third act. The gorgeously textured 16mm film that the movie is shot on further enhances the feeling that you are watching some horrible, hazy fairy tale come to life.

Those who love puzzle-solving will thoroughly enjoy fishing through Aronofksy’s imagery to decipher what he is getting at here. Environmentalism, the egotistical male artist, the objectification of women into attachments of their homes, the failures of religion and descent into violent idolatry are deeply and harrowingly explored. Especially present are eerie invocations of “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Stepford Wives” to effectively—and some would say insensitively—underline the sexual and domestic domination faced by women.

As with any daring work of art, “mother!” is divisive. The film’s foray into potentially pretentious symbolism, misogynistic criticism and thrashing of religious themes will deeply offend and upset many viewers. But, for however difficult the film is to watch, it is masterfully assembled to be an intense and claustrophobic experience that begs for repeated viewings, interpretations and post-credit conversation. So despite its despicable violence and horrific treatment of its female lead, “mother!” accomplishes a rare feat for big production film. Namely, that it is an intelligent and often thought-provoking flick that challenges us as much as it thrills us and never fails to utilize that unique power of cinema that forces us to stare our values in the face and watch them all crumble.

GRADE: B+

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