Darren Aronofsky doesn’t make movies to help you feel better about yourself and the world. He’s a cinematic virtuoso (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) on a mission to probe and provoke. That makes him a rare bird in a multiplex of comic-book escapism and cheap formula. Be warned: Mother! radiates a vibe of something dangerous if you get too close.
Javier Bardem, in a portrayal of demonic charm and intensity, stars as a famous poet living in seclusion in a beautiful country house with a young wife (Jennifer Lawrence) who caters to his every whim. They’re like Adam and Eve in a new Eden. Lawrence is superb at radiating a nurturing warmth in constant threat of being despoiled. Her character has unsettling visions that the walls are alive with a palpable menace. Then two visitors arrive, a doctor (Ed Harris) and his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), who push into this strange, smartphone-free paradise like characters out of Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance. A word here about the dazzling Pfeiffer, who delivers an Oscar-caliber performance that is sexy, sinister and deeply affecting all at the same time: Pfeiffer would steal the movie if Aronofsky kept it still long enough to get a grip on. Next to arrive are two brothers (Brian and Domhnall Gleeson), the sons of the visitors, who rage at each other like Cain and Abel.
As you’ve probably figured out, Mother! is a biblical allegory, with intimations of Rosemary’s Baby when the wife becomes pregnant. And when the house is invaded by the poet’s worshipful cult, including a fabulously nutso Kristin Wiig, a hallucinatory inferno is unleashed. Aronofsky eviscerates the ego of the artist, himself included, who holds what he creates above everything. Motherhood and Mother Earth, be damned.
Shot with a surrealist’s eye for madness and destruction by the great cinematographer Matthew Libatique, Mother! always seems on the verge of exploding. Your head will feel the same way. And I mean that as a compliment. Love it or loathe it – there’s probably no in between – the film is an artist’s cry from his own corrupt heart. In a world of Hollywood sellouts, Mother! emerges as the work of a visionary doing things his way. You won’t know what hit you.