mother! is one of those movies that’s hard to review, partly because its plot doesn’t lend itself to easy summarization, and partly because one has tread lightly to avoid giving too much away. But Darren Aronofsky’s latest doesn’t quite fall into the revered “go in blind” category, so let’s get to it.
A young woman credited only as Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and her middle-aged husband Him (Javier Bardem) lead a quiet, uneventful life in their isolated country house, which Mother has been single-handedly restoring for some time now. Him, a once-successful poet, has been battling a prolonged case of writer’s block.
One evening, a stranger (Ed Harris) arrives at their house, introducing himself as a doctor and claiming to have mistaken their house for a bed and breakfast. Him insists that he spends the night, to the surprise and worry of Mother, who has qualms about taking in a man they’ve only just met. By the next day, Him and the doctor have become fast friends, and Mother finds herself greeting the doctor’s impertinent wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) at the door. Once again, Him invites her in without hesitation. More family members follow, and soon the couple’s once-tranquil house becomes a deafening, overcrowded hell.
This part of the story, when mother! becomes a surreal take on the home invasion movie, sees Aronofsky at his nightmarish best, plunging the audience into another of his cinematic bad trips. The scenes of Mother being overwhelmed by the growing swarm of unwanted guests are primally upsetting, though they’re not without a streak of black comedy. With the help of Lawrence’s rattled performance, we feel Mother’s rising anxiety as her possessions, privacy, and solitude are ripped away from her. If Requiem for a Dream was a horror movie for pleasure seekers, this is a horror movie for introverts.
The rest of the movie, however, isn’t as successful. mother!’s third-act transition to full-on horror owes more than a little to Rosemary’s Baby, and fails to offer much more than shock value and heavy-handed symbolism. The sequence’s sense of chaos and lurid images are momentarily effective, but it goes on far too long for the impact to last. And though the very ending is executed artfully, it’s preceded by an dialogue exchange that clumsily summarizes the movie’s intended meaning.
But despite its flaws, mother! is a movie I can’t help but admire. If nothing else, it’s the warts-and-all work of auteur, an increasingly rare sight in theaters these days, and it contains moments of genuine technical brilliance. It may lack consistency (and depth, to be brutally honest), but it’s impossible to accuse it of not trying.