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In Theaters: MOTHER! (2017)

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MOTHER!
(US - 2017)

Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky. Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson, Kristen Wiig, Stephen McHattie, Emily Hampshire, Laurence Leboeuf. (R, 121 mins)

To say MOTHER! isn't for everyone is the understatement of the year. The latest film from director Darren Aronofsky (REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, THE WRESTLER, BLACK SWAN), MOTHER! might be his crowning achievement thus far. A nightmare that makes the last half-hour of REQUIEM FOR A DREAM look restrained, MOTHER! is so intricately constructed that there's too much to unpack and analyze on just one viewing. Certainly it's a film that's going to provoke debate and discussion, but most importantly, polarizing reaction. The phrase "love it or hate it" gets thrown about a bit too freely sometimes, but that's precisely the response MOTHER! is going to get. Much has been made of the horrific events in the film and they're there, but mileage may vary: genre fans who have some background in extreme horror and/or transgressive art cinema won't be as shocked as casual moviegoers who are fans of THE HUNGER GAMES and SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK and think they're going to see the latest Jennifer Lawrence vehicle. MOTHER! is intense, grueling, incredibly uncomfortable, and frequently off-the-charts cringe-worthy. But it's also brilliantly acted, richly textured with metaphorical interpretations and symbolism, and one of the best and most audacious films of 2017. In an era of franchises, branding, and endless reboots and remakes, major studios and A-list stars just don't make risky and provocative movies like this anymore. And they've never made one like MOTHER!






A plot synopsis is pointless, but for what it's worth: Lawrence (as "Mother") and Javier Bardem (as "Him") are a married couple who live in a large, isolated old house in the country, in the middle of a vast field with no visible roads leading to it. He's a famous author suffering from particularly difficult bout of writer's block. She's a homemaker currently deeply involved in renovating the more dilapidated parts of the house. One night, there's a knock at the door and it's Ed Harris (as "Man"), a professor who mistakes the house for a bed & breakfast. Bardem invites Harris to stay the night, even though he presumptuously lights up a cigarette in the house and seems offended when Lawrence asks him to put it out. Harris gets very ill and spends the night coughing and vomiting but in the morning, is fine and acts like nothing happened. That's when Michelle Pfeiffer (as "Woman") shows up. She's Harris wife, and is even ruder houseguest, dismissing Lawrence's life choices, going through her laundry and making derisive comments about her frumpy underwear, and questioning why she's married to such an older man. Pfeiffer makes a mess in the kitchen, leaves faucets running, and goes into Bardem's study after being told multiple times by Lawrence that he doesn't want people in there without him. When she and Harris go into Bardem's study and accidentally shatter a cherished crystallized glass piece that's of utmost important to him, they're offended about being asked to leave ("We said we were sorry!") and Lawrence walks in on them having sex in the next room five minutes later. Then their adult sons Domnhall Gleeson (as "Older Son") and Brian Gleeson (as "Younger Brother") show up, arguing about what's in Harris' will. A brotherly brawl results in the death of one of the siblings and Bardem agrees to host a post-funeral dinner gathering without telling Lawrence. More and more guests arrive without notice and from out of nowhere, help themselves to all areas of the house, try to fuck in Lawrence's and Bardem's bed, damage the kitchen sink and tear the plumbing out of the wall, and eventually, the entire house starts to resemble the stateroom scene in the Marx Brothers' A NIGHT AT THE OPERA. Then things just go off the rails and get really bizarre.


MOTHER! is like going through a two-hour anxiety attack. Upon a cursory glance of the trailer and the promotional material, the obvious influence is ROSEMARY'S BABY, but Aronofsky is actually paying homage to Polanski's unofficial "Apartment Trilogy"of REPULSION (1965), ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968), and THE TENANT (1976). The first hour of the film has that same slow-burning intensity, escalating discomfort, and frequently dark and absurdist humor of those three Polanski films, centering on people beset by psychological demons and unwanted interlopers who keep aggressively manipulating them into submission (there's also a nod to a famous shot in Dario Argento's TENEBRAE). The second half--and the less you know about it the better--loses Harris and Pfeiffer (do they ultimately have anything to do with anything?) but goes full Luis Bunuel Apocalypse, an overwhelming and delirious nightmare of EXTERMINATING ANGEL proportions put through a Lars von Trier filter that can be interpreted as everything from a Biblical allegory and a rebuking of religious extremism to a metaphor for the creative process and a scathing auto-critique of the narcissism and self-absorption of pretentious artists. Lawrence's "Mother" is constantly denigrated and marginalized, whether it's by her husband who revels in the adoration of the fans who show up at the house while forgetting all the support she's given him when no one else was around (how much of himself is Aronofsky putting on display here?), or by the invasive throng of houseguests who refuse to leave and look at her as an intruder on their time with "The Poet" as they hang on his every word and treat him like a god. But then there's other things--heartbeats in the wall, a strange yellow powder that Lawrence mixes with water, frogs in the basement, a freshly built basement wall that hides a secret room, and a spot on a hardwood floor that becomes a festering wound that won't stop bleeding no matter what lengths Lawrence--who's never been better than she is here--will go to cover it up. And there's a toilet clogged by what looks like some kind of human organ. It's been years since a major Hollywood studio bankrolled something this unapologetically fucked-up (thanks for your service, A CURE FOR WELLNESS, but you're no longer the weirdest wide-release movie of 2017). Exhausting, exhilarating, challenging, thought-provoking, beyond audacious, and fearless about going into some extremely dark places, MOTHER! is a masterpiece. Regardless of your response to it, there's no denying that there's never been anything like it.


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