Dark, daring 'mother!' is hard to describe but worth seeing

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Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem star in Darren Aronofsky’s film, about … well, eventually, everything.

“mother!” is a movie about a lot of things — marriage, love, pregnancy, creation — but not all at once, and maybe not at all.

Then, ultimately, it’s about everything.

Sound confusing? Purposely opaque?

Exactly.

Darren Aronofsky’s film pretty much defines “not for everybody.” He is here to challenge the audience as much as entertain it; happily, he does both, and with no half measures in either department. It is intriguing, frustrating, bizarre and over-the-top — way over. And yet when you leave, you can’t deny: There is a lot of movie going on here.

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The film is practically on fire with ideas, literally so in the first frames, which we’ll see again before it’s over. Jennifer Lawrence’s face is ringed in fire, but why? Soon we see her character — called "Mother" in the credits — waking up in a huge octagonal home she shares with her husband, identified as "Him" (Javier Bardem). Yes, it’s that type of movie: a parable, a myth or maybe just a director messing with us.

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Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem star in "mother!" (Photo: Niko Tavernise)

Him is a poet, famous but blocked. He roams around the house and surrounding fields (the house is in the middle of nowhere, without even roads leading to it) looking for inspiration. Meanwhile his wife restores the house, which we learn was destroyed in a fire, in a fashion that looks taken from Pretentious Wealth catalogue — rustic, but expensively so.

RELATED: Darren Aronofsky wants to make you uncomfortable with 'mother!'

One night there is a knock at the door. It’s a man (Ed Harris) — called “Man” in the credits — who says he is a retired orthopedic surgeon. Mother goes to get him some water, and when she returns Him and Man are knocking back shots of whiskey and talking like old friends, even though they just met. Man is welcome to stay, Him announces, much to Mother’s consternation.

Her instincts are good. The next morning Man’s wife — Woman, naturally, played with delicious bile by Michelle Pfeiffer — shows up. She’s a drunk and a meddler, badgering Mother about the age difference between her and the older Him.

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Jennifer Lawrence stars in "mother!" (Photo: Niko Tavernise)

All the while Mother has episodes where she grips the walls and is transported, so that she sees a kind of universe where a heart beats. But it’s damaged somehow. A little of the gold powder she keeps in the bathroom medicine cabinet mixed with water seems to calm her.

Next Man and Woman’s sons (Domhnall and Brian Gleeson) arrive, arguing bitterly. Things take a turn for the worse, and then the surreal.

Mother gets pregnant. Him is inspired to write and creates his masterpiece. They are the picture of a happy, satisfied family. For about five seconds. Another knock at the door, another, another and another. It’s hard to say exactly where we slip the bonds of reality, but once that happens, there is no going back. Kristen Wiig turns up as Herald, though she identifies herself as Him’s publicist. 

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Jennifer Lawrence stars in "mother!" (Photo: Niko Tavernise)

There are numerous biblical references, as well as a strong “Rosemary's Baby" vibe. There are remarkably disturbing images, with Aronofsky almost daring the audience to watch. At one point, it’s more or less a war movie.

This is a film that, as you watch, you think, "Oh, it’s about this." Then it changes, and it’s about this other thing. Oh, wait, now this. And finally, it’s about this other thing — this biggest thing — after all.

That makes no sense, of course, not as an explanation. Nor, sometimes, as a narrative structure. But it’s just so… different. Lawrence is outstanding, playing a character that easily could have been a doormat without such a strong performance — we see the love, the worry, the heartbreak that Mother experiences, right on her face. Bardem is also good, though his character is harder to read.

Aronofsky shoots their faces in close-up as they move through the house. They — Mother in particular — are the center of the story, of existence.

There’s no question that you may hate this movie. You might also love it. But more than any other in recent memory, you really need to see it, and find out.

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Reach Goodykoontz at bill.goodykoontz@arizonarepublic.com. Facebook: facebook.com/GoodyOnFilm. Twitter: @goodyk.

‘mother!’ 3.5 stars

Director: Darren Aronofsky.
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris.
Rating: R for string disturbing violent content, some sexuality, nudity and language.

Great ★★★★★ Good ★★★★

Fair ★★★ Bad ★★ Bomb ★

 

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