Lesson for today: never marry an artist, especially a poet. There! I’ve just saved you two hours. To be clear, I would never discourage anyone from seeing a film that interests them, especially someone who admires Darren Aronofsky’s work. I run hot and cold with this bold writer-director; I liked his daring debut feature Pi but have had problems with many of his subsequent films. For instance, I was not a fan of Requiem for a Dream, although it had many supporters. If you are one of them and you want to relive Ellen Burstyn’s acid trip on a larger scale, then by all means check it out.
The movie’s strongest asset is its always-watchable star, Jennifer Lawrence, whose tightly-photographed face carries much of the weight of this allegorical tale. She is married to celebrated poet Javier Bardem, who is experiencing writer’s block. She is in the process of rebuilding, painting and decorating their enormous Victorian house after a disastrous fire…but despite this demonstration of her love for him, something has gone wrong between them. It’s expressed in her furtive looks and unspoken feelings.
Their house is in a remote location but one day a stranger (Ed Harris) knocks on the door and Bardem offers to put him up for the night. He is followed by his outspoken wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), who pries into Lawrence’s private life and seems to specialize in inappropriate behavior. This intrusion marks the beginning of a mushrooming emotional crisis for Lawrence and Bardem, the details of which I won’t reveal. It has some of the nightmarish qualities of Rosemary’s Baby, though it’s not nearly as good.
The set-up of Mother! is intriguing, to be sure, but I found the second half to be an endurance test. I identified so closely with Lawrence’s plight that I felt as if I was trapped in a bad dream. (We’re never sure if she is dreaming, too, or if what’s happening is real to any degree.) All I wanted was to wake up. In other words, I couldn’t wait for the film to be over.
Aronofsky has said that what he wants most is to provoke conversation, to engage moviegoers so they will discuss and debate the content of his film. I’ve had a different reaction: I don’t want to invest another minute of my time thinking about Mother! I respect Aronofsky’s gutsiness, and Lawrence’s as well, but I found the movie to be an ordeal. All I want is to move on.