Review: 'Mother!'

Darren Aronofsky's buzzed-about horror film is a little overbearing
Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem star in the heavy-handed horror film, 'Mother!'

OH, MOTHER! Can this really be the end? To be stuck in J-Law's earhole with the Messiah blues again? Scene after scene, in tight closeup on Jennifer Lawrence's face, we peer into her eyeballs as if we were ophthalmologists. Watching Mother! you'd suspect that Lawrence was wearing a mechanical camera rig to follow her as closely as possible, some sort of selfie-stick cum halo-cast.

She's been accused of overacting, but with the camera this close, it's Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) who imprisons her. Every bad thing that happens—rather, every thing that's probably going to turn out bad—follows with a cut to Lawrence so she can react to it. We know exactly how she feels at every moment. Some ambiguity would have spiced up this Kafka fable that does a backflip into religious allegory.

It's a Repulsion-style study of the walls closing in; Mother (Lawrence) is rebuilding a rambling farm house somewhere in the country. Her husband, twice her age, is called "Him" (Javier Bardem) he's a poet walled in by serious writer's block. One evening, a guest calls, unknown to Mother but slightly known by Him. The man (Ed Harris) is a boorish orthopedic surgeon, a smirking bastard who smokes in the house, even after he's been asked to stop. Him can't get enough of the pushy man of medicine and goes off hiking and talking with him. Later, the doctor's unnamed wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives. She makes herself completely at home—Lawrence, a pillar of strength in most roles, looks as helplessly miffed as a '60s sitcom actress finding out that her husband's boss is coming for dinner.

Some Feud-style amusement can be had in watching the reigning female star of 1980s cinema emotionally roughing up the reigning female star of today's film. The former Catwoman strops her claws on Lawrence, matronizing her, as it were, pawing through her laundry and lingerie.

Then the surgeons' horrible children arrive—two adults, fighting like Cain and Abel. Lawrence increases her look of bewilderment, begging her husband to scoot them all out. "They have no place to go," Him insists.

And thus the first two thirds of Mother! are spent watching Mother's anxiety climb. As she wards off hallucinations with glasses of pretty yellow fizzing medicine, crowds arrive to tear Mother's home to pieces.

Mother!'s tactic of stripping the characters of the names isn't necessarily pretentious. This often occurred in silent film. Looking back over his career of shock and religious awe, one has second thoughts about perhaps not having taken Aronofsky all that seriously. A visionary is owed a little respect. But Black Swan, for its jabbing, mutilating imagery, was one step away from a Gotham City story, and The Fountain was a weird smoothie of New Age beliefs. Considering the epic size of Noah, it leaves little wake: no matter how rock-monstered up, it's a story made for the religious—it's not the kind of Biblical tale that gives unbelievers anything but a sense of contempt.

You hear complaints that Mother!-haters fail to wrestle with the religious allegory. Do it, and it's a spoiler. It can be said that Mother! sets a land-speed record in its crossing the terrain of the Gospels. And if we're going to dwell on the idea of Christ being killed by the Bitch-Goddess Success, we might as well go back to Jesus Christ Superstar.

Emulating the midnight-movie look of his first movie, Pi, Aronofsky films in grainy Super 16mm blown up to full size. Some elements of the bizarre stick to the viewer—hallucinations of protoplasm, rot and blood, the sensual treatment of gobs of plaster in Mother's trowel, studied until they look like chocolate mousse on a dessert trolley. The furnace in Mother's basement, baring its red-hot grillwork, is clearly ready for human fuel. The movie's best idea is the summing up of Him's fantastically popular poem in a silent tableau of love and conflagration. We never hear it read aloud or understand its gist. But the tight, ever tighter camera overexposes Lawrence's face. You're reduced to spending an hour or so counting the moles on her neck.

R; 120 Mins.

Find Movie Theaters & Showtimes

Zip Code or City:   Radius: Theaters: