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.
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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.