“We don’t know him,” says mother (Jennifer Lawrence). “He’s a doctor,” says poet husband (Javier Bardem). “He’s a stranger,” mother says. “Do we want to let him sleep in our house?” The stranger, played by Ed Harris, arrives in the night, explaining that he thought their house was a B&B. That’s the setup for writer/director Darren Aronorfsky’s art-house film, “mother!” in which its unnamed characters — Lawrence is “mother,” Bardem is “him,” Ed Harris is “man” — and its horrific events are, Aronofsky says, metaphorical.
Where do the hordes of unnamed invaders come from who destroy Lawrence and Bardem’s isolated, gothic house? Why does Bardem welcome them? Will you get Aronofsky’s cinematic allegory? I’m still working on it.
“mother!” is Jennifer Lawrence’s film. From beginning to end, she’s up-close, filling the screen. With point-of-view shots, we see what she sees as Aronofsky’s bizarre tale unwinds. Lawrence gives a bravura performance — a genuine star turn, tour de force. Bardem, Lawrence’s 20-years-older husband, is a puzzle. An ambitious, published and successful poet, he loves his wife but suffers writer’s block, which he overcomes with his wife’s unknowing help and, more importantly, with the adoration of his fans. Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer are “man” and “woman,” initial invaders of Bardem’s house. They are unpleasant guests, especially Pfeiffer, whose criticisms of Lawrence’s “mother” are rude and hurtful.
Others in the cast include Domhnall Gleeson and Brian Gleeson as Harris and Pfeiffer’s quarrelling “oldest son” and “younger brother.” Eric Davis, Raphael Grosz-Harvey, and Abraham Aronofsky play “bumbler,” “philanderer,” and “wanderer,” three of the insane, hellish poetry fans who crowd the house.
“mother!” has been marketed as drama/mystery/horror, and it draws from these film genres. Act one is family drama: Lawrence — carefully restoring the fire-damaged gothic house; Bardem — suffering through an inability to write; and the two — comforting each other. In act two, mysterious Harris and Pfeiffer arrive. Who are they? Why do their sons fight so viciously? Why does Bardem permit them to stay despite his wife’s doubts? And, in truly horrific act three, where is Aronofsky’s story going? And, what does its sound and fury signify? Here are clues that seem helpful to me: the film’s original title was “Day 6”; all characters are nameless; “mother!” breaks rules of realism in movies; and Aronofsky says it’s an allegory. Look for additional hints in the credits.
Rated R (deservedly) for strong, disturbing violent content, sexuality, nudity and language, “mother!” runs 121 minutes. It’s a puzzle. Good luck.
If you like your movies
Straight forward, without doubts,
“mother!” isn’t for you —
Who knows what it’s about?