MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Mother!’ an unpredictable, unsettling and satisfying work from Darren Aronofsky

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Jennifer Lawrence in a scene from “Mother!”

You may believe, early on, you know where “Mother!” is going — where the Darren Aronofsky film is taking you — but understand you’re almost certainly incorrect.

An expectation-defying, genre-blending arthouse film masquerading as a mainstream horror-thriller, “Mother!” is, if nothing else, hard to predict.

However, this work — anchored by a demanding and impressive performance by Jennifer Lawrence — is many other things than unpredictable: visually interesting, dramatic, thought-provoking, unsettling and downright disturbing.

Will it prove to be to a wide range of tastes? Highly unlikely. While it is a significantly better film than the recently released horror hit “It,” that more-conventional tale, chock full of clown-induced scares, is easier to digest.

Is that to say “Mother!” is a flawless work from the writer-director responsible for, among other films, “Requiem for a Dream” (2000) and “Black Swan” (2010)? On one viewing, no. But it is well-constructed, bold and challenging.

It’s hard to ask for more than that.

After the film opens with a person engulfed in flames, we meet Mother (Lawrence) wandering through and looking around her rustic-and-remote mansion, a multilevel structure with a large open area in the center. Her world feels uneasy, but the life she shares with Him (Javier Bardem) seems idyllic: He is an acclaimed poet, and she an adoring fan-turned-wife is devoted to rehabbing his longtime home from a fire and creating a “paradise” for them.

We do see cracks, however; she is taking medication, perhaps for anxiety, and he seems to be having trouble writing. Oh, and she is hearing subtle but scary noises emanating from the house.

Her anxiety is elevated when a strange visitor (Ed Harris) arrives at their door at night. Claiming to be an orthopedic surgeon and saying he was told their home was a bed and breakfast, he is invited in by Him, which clearly displeases Mother. (Know that no real names are used in “Mother!” and that even referring to Lawrence’s character as Mother feels like giving too much away, but that is how she is credited.)

While Him is obviously thrilled to have someone new in the home and takes an instant liking to the man, Mother is highly suspicious of the fellow — and grows even more agitated when her husband invites him to spend the night.

“We don’t know him,” she protests.

“He’s a doctor,” her husband responds.

“He’s a stranger.”

Him and the man spend much of the night talking and drinking. Mother awakens to the sounds of the man being sick in the bathroom. Him chalks it up to too much drinking, but she has to wonder if it has something to do with the man’s sickly cough.

The next day brings the arrival of the man’s wife, portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer, who’s incredibly forward in her interactions with Mother. The former presses the latter on why the couple has no children, and tries repeatedly to enter Him’s home office, despite Mother’s vehement objections.

“Wow, you really do love him,” the woman says. “God help you.”

From there, well, “Mother!” grows increasingly strange and, ultimately, is wild. To call the goings-on in its second half “insane” doesn’t feel like a stretch.

You don’t feel like you’d hear any objection from Aronofsky, who had produced a rough draft of the script, according to the press notes, after “five fevered days at his keyboard alone in an empty house.”

And while its story feels like it was pulled from the fever dream of a mad man, “Mother!” is beautifully and meticulously shot by Aronofsky and Matthew Libatique, with whom he had collaborated on the aforementioned two works and 2006’s visually arresting “The Fountain” and 2014’s “Noah” — two of Aronofsky’s less-satisfying films. The film being told from Mother’s point of view, the camera is never far from Mother — facing her, stalking behind her or showing us what she is seeing. (Oh, the madness that she sees …)

“Mother!” doesn’t work without strong work from Lawrence (“Passengers,” “X-Men: Apocalypse”), and that’s what we get. We have to relate to her — feel for her — and we do. Bardem, the Oscar winner for 2007’s “No Country for Old Men,” also turns in an impressive effort. We need to like but be wary of Him, and Bardem nails it.

While Harris (“Westword”) gives more of a dependable performance, Pfeiffer (“The Family”) makes a real impression with relatively limited screentime. We just don’t get enough of the veteran actress these days, but she’ll soon be back on the big screen in a new adaptation of “Murder on the Orient Express.”

Expect to walk out of “Mother!” feeling a bit banged around. It is the kind of work left up to some interpretation. (Should you brush up on your Dante afterward? Maybe? Maybe not.) The auteur has some things to say about celebrity and fame, about violence and destruction, love and marriage and about the value of a life.

After all the mind-blowing intensity, Aronofsky does provide more of a concrete ending than you might be expecting, building on clues from early on in the film. (It’s more of a closing of a loop than provided by director David Lynch in the recent Showtime series “Twin Peaks: The Return,” for example.)

Still, it’s bound to make some people upset. Or frustrated. Or, best of all, think — and discuss.

You don’t need to know where “Mother!” is heading. Just go with it.

If you dare.


In theaters: Sept. 15.

Rated: R for strong disturbing violent content, some sexuality, nudity and language.

Runtime: 2 hours, 1 minute.

Stars (of four): 3.

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