Masterful ‘Mother!’ could make even extreme horror fans wince

12:00 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017 Movies & TV
Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence star in “Mother!” Contributed by Paramount Pictures

Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Mother!’ is a masterpiece that might make even fans of extreme horror movies wince. It’s stylish, complex and superbly acted by Jennifer Lawrence, the titular mother.

As anyone who has watched the trailer knows, the film has a distinctive “Rosemary’s Baby” vibe, and that’s intentional. But this time the proceedings take place not in a New York apartment building but in a remote farm home in an unspecified state.

Lawrence stars as a young woman who’s renovating a home with her older husband, a poet and author played by Javier Bardem. Neither character has a name other than Mother and Him. So you get the idea rather quickly that we’re in the land of the metaphorical.

Bardem’s author is suffering from writer’s block, and Lawrence’s character seems strangely uneasy with the noises and mysteries of the home that she’s trying to tame into submission by installing new plumbing and plastering. Strangely, no handymen seem to be present. They’re all alone.

Then one day there’s a knock on the door. It’s Ed Harris, playing a visitor. He’s a smoker, and he hacks and wheezes, and Bardem’s character, who tells his wife that he doesn’t know the man, still allows him to stay for the night.

Then the stranger’s wife, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, shows up. And she starts asking strange and probing questions about whether Lawrence’s character is taking sedatives and whether she wants kids.

It’s all quite a mess for Lawrence’s character, who just wants to get pregnant but can’t get her husband to make love. He’s a temperamental sort, hanging around in his study but never producing a line of poetry.

The unexpected guests keep showing up, and Lawrence’s Mother keeps wondering what’s going on. But to tell much more about the plot would ruin the experience. Let’s just say that writer/director Aronofsky, who previously brought us “Requiem for a Dream” and “Black Swan,” usually goes beyond what you might expect. And that’s certainly the case with “Mother!”

Of all the movies that screened at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month, not one has caused so much controversy and divisiveness as “Mother!” After the first press screening, some hailed it as a classic, while others expressed disgust for what they had seen. Few folks were in between.

Regardless of how you react, you should probably know that the movie can be viewed as a fable about the creative process — about the pains and struggles of creating a work of art.

Others will see it as full of misogyny because of the extreme emotional and physical abuse that Lawrence’s character suffers. But that argument runs into a big problem when you consider the movie’s point of view — which is distinctly feminine.

The climactic scenes feature some of the most feverish and brilliant editing ever seen on the big screen. Matthew Libatique should get kudos for his cinematography, while Andrew Weisblum was the frenetic editor.

If you’re an adventurous filmgoer, you’ll want to see this one. If not, then stay at home. You will probably be offended. You’ve been warned.

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