PLOT A couple’s tranquil country home is upended by strange visitors.
CAST Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer
RATED R (bloody violence and sexuality)
BOTTOM LINE The director of “Black Swan” and “Noah” combines both to come up with this tough-to-categorize movie.
There’s a reason the trailers and posters for Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” have revealed virtually nothing about the plot. To say almost anything about this strangely titled movie is to give almost everything away. Read this review, then, only if you want all secrets spoiled.
“mother!” features two major league stars, Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, as a couple whose home is invaded by visitors. Its billing as a “psychological thriller,” however, isn’t quite accurate. The movie is really an extended metaphor for the relationship between God, man and the Earth. There are nods to specific Biblical figures, including Adam, Eve and Jesus Christ, along with references to such modern-day concerns as revolution, war and genocide.
If that sounds a little arty, abstract and overbearing, well, it is. What keeps us interested, though, is the allegorical guessing-game that Aronofsky skillfully forces us to play. We immediately have a sense of what’s going on — but who, exactly, represents what?
Lawrence plays mother, the pretty young wife of a poet (Bardem) identified in the credits as Him. They live in a country house overflowing with rustic charm. While the poet works at his desk, mother contentedly renovates the house. “I want to make a paradise,” she says.
When an ailing man (Ed Harris) and his jaded wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrive out of nowhere, trouble starts. These two are drinkers, smokers, fornicators and, worst of all, slobs. They invite first their family (Brian and Domnhall Gleeson play two sons who act out a familiar Biblical story) and then their friends, until eventually mother’s house is overrun by partygoers, creeps, cultists and even the U.S. military.
Symbols, needless to say, aren’t as compelling as characters, but two actors here manage to bring their roles to life. One is Pfeiffer as a sophisticated, metropolitan version of Eve; the other is Lawrence, who plays a kind of hippie-dippie life-spirit, yet conveys a human grit and ferocity.
Aronofsky’s scenes of chaos, horror and destruction can feel heavy-handed, and his contemporary commentary isn’t quite clear. Nevertheless, “mother!” is a daring and fully realized piece of work. If it doesn’t answer all your questions, that’s because it’s attempting to explain nothing less than the meaning of existence.
GETTING TO THE (EXCLAMATION) POINT
Sometimes you see a movie and wonder if it had a point. If nothing else, these movies, like “mother!” make their point — one of exclamation — in their titles.
THEM! (1954) Possibly the most intriguing use of punctuation in the name of a movie. “Them!” refers to the only word a little girl can utter after witnessing her parents being attacked by giant ants in this thriller.
GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS! (1962) Proof that the names of Elvis Presley movies were often more creative than the films themselves. But it really should have been called “Girls! Girls!” since the King is only torn between two women — a sexy nightclub singer (Stella Stevens) and a bland but wealthy girl-next-door type (Laurel Goodwin).
TORA! TORA! TORA! (1970) More triple exclamations, this time in Japanese. The war flick dramatized events leading up to the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor from both the U.S. and Japanese perspectives.
¡THREE AMIGOS! (1986) Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short played the titular trio — three down-on-their-luck actors who unwittingly get drawn into helping a Mexican village get rid of bandits. It’s probably the only Hollywood movie to use an upside-down exclamation point in its title.
— Daniel Bubbeo