By Eleanor Ringel Cater
Darren Aronofsky certainly needed to get something out of his system… and here it is.
What it is, exactly, I’m not sure.
“Mother!” (yes, the exclamation point is part of the title, like, say, “Oliver!”) takes place in a remote Victorian fixer-upper where Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) does most of the fixer-upping and her husband, Him (Javier Bardem), a world-famous poet, struggles with writer’s block.
While she slaps gunk on walls, does laundry and fixes meals, he holes up in his study where he keeps a strange crystal that holds special meaning for him. Lawrence isn’t sure what that is, but she is sure she’s not to touch it.
Then one dark and stormy night — actually, it’s just dark, but a storm of sorts is on its way — Ed Harris comes knock, knock, knockin’ at the door. He’s a complete stranger who claims he thought their place was a B&B. Inexplicably, Bardem invites him to stay the night. Equally inexplicably, the next morning, his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) turns up. Bardem’s glad to have her stay over, too.
From there, it gets weirder and weirder — or, if you think in terms of the Marx Brothers’ overcrowded stateroom in “ A Night at the Opera” — funnier and funnier. Only, not exactly ha-ha funny
By the time it’s all over, you feel as if you’ve wondered into some weird Bermuda Triangle of “The Shining,” “The Muse” and “Repulsion.” Oh, with bits of “The House That Dripped Blood” because, indeed, this house drips blood, too.
As far as I could tell, Aronofsky has made a kind of companion piece to “Black Swan” — the movie that won Natalie Portman a much-deserved Oscar. She played an artist — a ballerina — who willingly ripped herself apart to realize her artistic genius.
According to “Mother!,” male artists don’t need to do that. They have wives/mistresses/muses to do it for them. Women who, in a sense, risk the brink of madness — staring into the abyss on his behalf. “Nothing is ever enough,” Bardem tells Lawrence near the movie’s end. “I must create. That’s what I do.”
Nothing is ever enough for Aronofsky either (though I admit his over-heated approach worked for me in “Black Swan;” plus, “Requiem for a Dream” is still one of the most stunning depictions of addiction I’ve ever seen).
But ”Mother!” is both too long and far too chaotic to be as effective as it could’ve been. It ultimately comes off as undisciplined, as if the filmmaker couldn’t be bothered to think it all through, which suggests laziness and lack of focus rather than artistic daring.
Still, kudos to his cast, especially his female leads.
Pfeiffer gives her character a viperous, intrusive edge while Lawrence gives her character — and us — just about everything imaginable.
That an actor with her clout would choose to take on a project like this…I imagine it might be called a kind of self-immolation (hmmm, see the film), but it’s also the work of a confident artist willing to put herself to the test. Though what, exactly, that test is, I’m still not entirely sure.