From the idiotic drug-addict hokum Requiem for a Dream to the overrated, overwrought and over-hyped Black Swan, which I called “a lavishly staged Repulsion in toe shoes,” the films of wack job Darren Aronofsky have shown a dark passion for exploring twisted souls in torment. But nothing he’s done before to poison the ozone layer prepared me for mother!, an exercise in torture and hysteria so over the top that I didn’t know whether to scream or laugh out loud. Stealing ideas from Polanski, Fellini and Kubrick, he’s jerrybuilt an absurd Freudian nightmare that is more wet dream than bad dream, with the subtlety of a chainsaw.
This delusional freak show is two hours of pretentious twaddle that tackles religion, paranoia, lust, rebellion, and a thirst for blood in a circus of grotesque debauchery to prove that being a woman requires emotional sacrifice and physical agony at the cost of everything else in life, including life itself. That may or may not be what Aronofsky had in mind, but it comes as close to a logical interpretation as any of the other lunk-headed ideas I’ve read or heard. The reviews, in which a group of equally pretentious critics frustratingly search for a deeper meaning, are even nuttier than the film itself. Using descriptions like “hermeneutic structure,” “phantasmagoric fantasia,” “cinematic Rorsach test” and “extended scream of existential rage,” they sure know how to leave you laughing.
Although you will spend most of the painful, torturous and stressful two hours it takes to survive mother! trying to figure out what it’s all about, I advise you to ignore the reviews entirely and make up your own fantasy. One critic says it’s a satire on the chaos the dysfunctional world has been turned into by Donald Trump. Another says the title refers to the role played by Jennifer Lawrence, the director’s current personal squeeze and cinematic muse, whom he slobbers over in endlessly annoying close-ups that emphasize her flaws and rob the viewer of the power of self-discovery. One reviewer says she plays the quintessential Earth mother who works feverishly to restore balance to a planet Earth that is being constantly torn apart by wickedness and savagery. I love the review that compares the movie to the “lancing of a boil.” They all insist mother! is a metaphor for something, although they are not quite sure what it is. The only thing I agree with is that the film is indeed original. I admired the camerawork, the wide-angle close-ups of flaring nostrils, and the pandemonium of the crowd scenes in the second half of the film when it goes haywire and insanity reign. It’s an odd sensation to still remember moments of technical brilliance in a movie I never want to see again. The actress’s face occupies a full 66 minutes of the 120-minute running time, so I’ve seen quite enough of her, too.
Lawrence, a woman restrained almost to the point of madness, lives in a creepy, remote mansion in the middle of nowhere with her husband (Javier Bardem), a rugged poet who refuses to give her a baby or even take her to bed. (Can a sensitive poet with erectile function also be an alpha male? Just asking.) As she grows more understandably neurotic every day, the house is invaded by nameless strangers (Ed Harris and gorgeous Michelle Pfeiffer, looking unbelievably haggard) who interrupt the woman’s idyllic life with rude questions about sex, marriage, and why she isn’t trying harder to procreate. Every effort to throw them out is thwarted by her husband, who craves attention and idolatry from his fans. Then their two sons arrive, bringing violence and mayhem. Dishes smash. Furniture is demolished. A murder is committed. A mysterious bloodstain appears on the floor, opening up a hole to the story below. Soon the house in filled with mourners, all encouraged to stay as long as they like by the husband, who ignores his wife’s ensuing breakdown. Aronofsky derives tension from strange sounds and occurrences—a dying bee, a hot frying pan, an exploding light bulb covered with blood—filmed with unbearable tedium. As the uninvited guests grow in number, wrecking the plumbing, flooding the house with water, and littering the rooms with garbage, you begin to suspect there’s more to this depravity than misguided hospitality. Lawrence goes nuts before the audience does, displaying a remarkable talent for screaming “Stop!” at the top of her lungs—something I wished I had thought of first.
Just when you think she’s had all she can take, there’s more. A baby is born amidst blood-curdling screams of childbirth as Lawrence crawls over piles of corpses in labor, and unruly mobs carrying torches arrive in a scene that looks based on the Charlottesville riots. In the ultimate destruction of the female gender, Lawrence tries to save the baby she has always dreamed of to make life complete, but Fellini grotesques in preposterous Halloween costumes fill the screen and burn the house down. The New York Times critic arrogantly warns in his review: “Don’t listen to anyone who natters on about how intense or disturbing it is.” Sorry, pal, but a mob that burns a screaming baby and its mother alive, then turns cannibal, eats the baby and rips its heart out to flush down the toilet while Patti Smith sings about the end of the world pretty much fits my definition of both “intense” and “disturbing.” What’s yours?
Nothing about mother! makes one lick of sense as Darren Aronofsky’s corny vision of madness turns more hilarious than scary. With so much crap around to clog the drain, I hesitate to label it the “Worst movie of the year” when “Worst movie of the century” fits it even better.