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Movie review: ‘Mother!’ is disturbing freak-out of art meets activism

September 15, 2017

If you consider the proverb “Necessity is the mother of invention,” you may be best able to understand what filmmaker Darren Aronofsky is trying to do with his new film, “Mother!”

It will help you understand why he believes the exclamation point is necessary and why he felt it was necessary to make an art-house film that’s an allegory for what he sees as a dying world.

The supposed synopsis: A couple (Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem) are living a tranquil existence in an isolated country estate that she is restoring while her husband, a poet with some past fame, attempts to overcome his writer’s block.

Then strangers start showing up, and things change.

But think about it this way: They are alone in what seems to be a paradise (Adam and Eve?) that the woman (Mother Nature?) is building, and their home is the Earth, a healthy and happy place until people overpopulate it and recklessly waste its resources.

Of course, there’s also this: Is any of this really happening? Is this the mental breakdown of a woman who wants to have a child? Is it something else?

Some elements are widely open to interpretation, while others are as subtle as a sledgehammer.

It’s a heady mix of art meets political activism. It’s also more frequently fascinatingly uncomfortable than it is entertaining.

“Mother!” is a weird, wild and wickedly creative nightmare — think of “Rosemary’s Baby” meets “The Shining” to have a feel for the tone — as well as being an epic story told on a small scale and in a disturbing manner.

This is fertile territory for a filmmaker who’s given us the psychodrama of films like “Black Swan” and “Requiem for a Dream,” as well as a Biblical vision like his “Noah.”

Aronofsky wants, above all else, to make people think deeper than the film’s surface plot and provoke discussions on everything from climate change to the power of creativity.

The film features a game performance from Lawrence (Aronofsky’s current romantic partner) around which to construct the writer-director’s creation, which will intrigue moviegoers looking for a challenge.

By equal measure, it might put off plenty who will leave the theater asking, “What was that?”

The film is a bit of a test, and it can be a bit much at times with its clever but over-the-top thesis, leading to a thrill-ride finish that goes goofy with its excess.

“Mother!” would be the character played by Lawrence in a film with characters who have no names.

In the credits, Bardem is listed as Him. A knock at their door brings Ed Harris (Man) and his wife, played by Michelle Pfeiffer (Woman).

They are strangers, but the man is also a fan of the poet’s “work,” to the point of being an acolyte who tells him “your words changed my life.”

To say much more in detail would only further the allegorical idea that viewers should witness for themselves, but even that can branch into bigger ideas about relationships, praise, greed and corruption.

There’s even a scene that struck me as an artistic expression of the lead actress’ feelings about a 2014 computer hack that leaked nude photos of her and other celebrities’ private lives.

All of that is present on this haunted-house ride, with Lawrence at the controls.

Every shot in the film is either of her face, or of what her eyes are looking at, or over her shoulder, making for a claustrophobic feel.

Thankfully, that focus is on a face so expressive that we follow her every move, willingly, into the nightmare scares and the nutty moments.

There are many of each, and most will join her frequent facial expression of “Get these people out of my house before they destroy it!”

Her house being her world, you understand. And yes, the exclamation point is necessary.

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