Mother! stars Jennifer Lawrence as the wife of a poet played by Javier Bardem. They live alone in a pretty remote house in the middle of the country, and she spends a lot of her time restoring the home while her husband struggles to start writing again. Then one night he allows a guest (Ed Harris) into the house. The guest is a doctor who says he thought the house was a bed and breakfast, and her husband inexplicably just allows him to stay. The doctor proves to be a pretty awful houseguest, and it only gets worse when his family shows up.The less said about what happens next, the better. Suffice it to say that this isn’t quite the conventional thriller that the trailer might be suggesting. It is far crazier than that, the entire film a rather bananas metaphor that reframes some very familiar stories as the inexplicable, increasingly absurd struggles of a housewife with a famous husband. One’s tolerance for weirdness and clumsy symbolism will likely determine one’s enjoyment of this picture. But given that, it is easy enough to admire the film’s utter commitment to its own insanity.The movie doesn’t bother being subtle. Anyone with a passing familiarity with the bible will likely pick up what a lot of these scenes are alluding to, and by the end, Aronofsky gets startlingly literal with the meaning of his movie, basically having its characters explain the whole thing out loud. Given that, it’s all still pretty compelling. There is just enough wiggle room in all of this allegory to leave a lot of it open to interpretation. The movie may be pointing directly at the bible, but its maximalist approach to its own symbolism offers many other avenues for critical examination.It can come off as clumsy and inelegant, but the movie manages to be oddly entertaining through all of it. The last act of this film is a series of escalations that compresses centuries of violent history into one grueling sequence. It is beautiful and audacious while still being a little bit juvenile. It just doesn’t quite have the sophistication of some of the best films tackling the same kind of material. It is too blunt, and at time too scattershot to really build to a compelling theme. And yet the film is compelling all the same. Aronofsky seems to be wearing his heart on his sleeve, and as clumsy as the film is, it can be a real hoot to witness.At the center of all this chaos is Jennifer Lawrence, in a rather unusual role for the actress. She is at this point most known for playing characters with a palpable inner strength that translates into forceful agency. In this film, she is mainly reactive and unassertive, unable to control anything that happens. But she pulls it off with aplomb, and the film benefits from keeping the focus solely on her. The camera often moves with her, as if attached to the actress herself. It’s a marvelous performance with a delightful payoff. Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer all seem to relish their outsized roles, and make the best out of even the clumsiest allusions.Whether one ends up liking it or not, one has to admit that Mother! is a rich cinematic experience. It is a decadent chocolate cake of symbolism and religious allusion, a densely caloric meal of the director’s personal obsessions. It’s certainly delicious, but it’s probably too much. If nothing else, though, the film will likely leave audiences with much to talk about. And that’s a net good. And one must give the film credit for achieving its maximalist visual and thematic ambitions, whether one agrees with those ambitions or not. One must admire its willingness to go for broke.
MOTHER! IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE