Normally, I avoid watching trailers and reading production notes prior to viewing a movie, but my curiosity won out on "mother!" especially after a Paramount Pictures field rep encouraged critics to look at the notes first.
So, I read the director's statement about what a "mad time" it is to be alive, how our population continues to explode, how the U.S. breaks its word to other countries, that global warming is melting icebergs, and how "we live in a state of denial about the outlook for our planet."
"mother!"★ ★ ★
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kristin Wiig
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Other: A Paramount Pictures release. Rated R for language, nudity, sexual situations, violence. 115 minutes
Then I read that Darren Aronofsky banged out the screenplay for "mother!" in five quick days.
I saw "mother!" and it feels exactly like a movie an incensed artist might knock out during a five-day bender fueled by sheer outrage and a steady supply of Vivarin-laced Mountain Dews.
"mother!" (even the downcased, punctuated title works too hard to be splashy) creates an ultimate home-invasion thriller, an angry fever dream rife with paranoia and gut-grabbing tension, apparently just for the sake of providing us with a visceral, nightmarish glimpse into the worst fears of Jennifer Lawrence's titular character, Mother, who pretentiously possesses no actual name.
It's a stunning piece of moviemaking showcasing moviemaking itself, a shot of David Lynch with a Peter Greenaway chaser designed to slip us a cinematic mickey. Our heads might hurt when we wake up from this exponentially manic manufactured bad dream.
Lawrence's Mother lives with her older husband, called Him (Javier Bardem, who puts his patented brand of lurking menace to good use as a self-centered novelist suffering from massive writer's block). Clearly, he has no muse.
Mother (the couple has no children at this point, so the title becomes foreshadowing) is also an artist who has made a personal project out of revitalizing their old, enormous farm house stuck in the rural sticks of Norman Rockwell County.
The two live alone, apart from the world, and Mother loves it. She calls her existence "paradise."
Then comes the knock at the door in a movie where the two most terrifying sounds turn out to be door knocks and telephone rings.
An older Man (Ed Harris) thought the house to be a bed-and-breakfast. He doesn't seem well, and it's late, so Him invites Man to stay the night. Mother doesn't like it.
But wait! If Man had stumbled on their house accidentally, why does he have a photo of Him?
Soon, Man's wife, Woman (a hard-edge Michelle Pfeiffer), arrives at the door, full of rude privilege.
The rest of their family arrives. A murder happens and "mother!" morphs from a domestic chamber drama into a full-blown, surrealistic experience with human misbehavior carried to savage, horrifying extremes, including a tweaked homage to "Rosemary's Baby" in which houseguests kill and dine on a crying baby.
With its constantly prowling camera, shrewd cuts, astonishing set designs and the promise of something awful lingering on every scene, "mother!" makes a magnificently immersive thriller, but a superficial one.
Aronofsky, who created the ultimate anti-drug drama in the haunting "Requiem for a Dream," treats "mother!" as a clenched fist-shake to the heavens.
It has little to say, but it probably made its creator feel a lot better after that inspired, five-day writing spree.