Movie review: Mother!

Director Darren Aronofsky is back with deeply disturbing psychological film

Strangers turning up at very isolated houses in films often heralds some danger. Writer and director Darren Aronofsky has become a unique screen visionary, and Mother! ranks among his most fully realized works, a deeply personal project that doesn't neatly fit into any genre.

Mother! brings together some themes from psychological horror films and obsessive relationships, but dismissing it as a pseudo-haunted house film or romantic melodrama does it a big disservice.

The film changes directions several times, which serves to keep the viewer constantly unsettled as there are no clear genre clues to where the plot is going.

The film starts cryptically with a dreamlike scene of a woman trapped in a fire, but when this occurred, if it did at all, is not clear. A character referred to in the credits as Mother (played by Jennifer Lawrence), but who is never named in the film, wakes up and looks for her husband, called Him (Javier Bardem) and gets increasingly frantic until she finds him.

Mother has been restoring the house, and it is almost back to its original condition. Apparently there really was a fire. A small piece of molten glass was salvaged from the ruins, and is Him's prized possession.

Him is a writer who is trying to start a new book but so far has not written a single word. His lack of progress is starting to concern Mother.

Something is not quite right between the couple. They say the right words, but especially from Him there seems to be a lack of feeling behind them.

Events start to take a strange turn when a man (Ed Harris) turns up claiming he was told the house was a bed and breakfast. It isn't. Shortly after this, other people start to turn up including the man's wife (Michelle Pfeiffer).

The oddly shaped octagonal house seems to have no roads leading to it, and is surrounded by woods. How people even find and get there it is a mystery.

There is some talk of a town nearby but viewers never see it. All of the action takes place in and around the house.

As the film progresses, it grows more surreal. Mother may or may not be hallucinating strange happenings like a bloodstain that can't be cleaned up. She is taking some sort of yellow powder from a very old glass bottle. What it contains and where it came from is never clear.

In the end, what the film is about is open to discussion. Him's writing process is a big theme, and the film can be seen as a sort of portrait of a narcissistic author who feeds off of those around him. But there are other ways to look at it.

Writer and director Aronofsky has delivered one of the most challenging films to hit screens recently. If it weren't for his reputation from Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream, plus the A-list cast, though, Mother! likely would not have been seen outside of festivals and art houses. It is too hard to classify and too deeply disturbing. The only films it can be easily compared to are other arthouse works like Roman Polanski's The Tenant (1976) and to a lesser extent the same director's Rosemary's Baby (1968). It also is a bit reminiscent of some overlooked 1970s horror films about creepy houses that exude a mood of terror.

The lead actors manage to find the right tone with the difficult material. Jennifer Lawrence shows someone trying to create a safe space for herself and her marriage, becoming increasingly off center as the safe space is threatened by intruders. Javier Bardem seems distant and not fully connected to his wife for reasons that eventually become clear.

In supporting roles, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer both create perfect examples of the annoying and intrusive house guests that slowly push way too far and can't be gotten rid of. For Pfeiffer it is her best role in a long time.

It is hard to say that watching Mother! is an enjoyable experience but for people sick of the same old plots and over the top action, Mother! offers something very different and quite challenging.

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