The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"mother!"

Mother!

mother! is a superb example of something we don't get enough of anymore – a genuine love-it-or-hate-it movie. In all honesty, a disproportionate number of people will probably hate it. Writer/director Darren Aronofsky lulls you into thinking that you're watching a conventional, well-executed chiller, only to pull the rug out from beneath you in the last forty minutes. The film is experimental, bold, creatively dangerous, and over-the-top crazy. Many viewers will despise where the story goes, and some might leave scratching their heads wondering what it was all about. Those with a taste for adventurous cinema, on the other hand, may experience a rapturous feeling afterward.

Jennifer Lawrence plays “Mother,” a young wife married to a slightly older poet, “Him” (Javier Bardem). They live in a giant old house out in the middle of nowhere. She fixes the place up while he tries, unsuccessfully, to write. Mother's life is thrown into turmoil when Him allows a stranger (Ed Harris) and his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) to stay in their home temporarily. She quickly notices that these people are not as normal as they seem on the surface, which makes Him's willingness to bend over backwards to accommodate them all the more curious. The woman is particularly nosy, correctly surmising that Mother wants a child and Him does not. There's also a sudden spot of blood on one of the floors that seems suspicious.

The less you know about the specifics of mother!, the better, so let's stop there. What's important is that Aronofsky clues us in that the film isn't meant to be taken literally. He does this by compressing time. Things that should happen over the course of hours or days happen instantaneously. What we're watching, then, is all metaphorical. Once you catch on to that, the joy becomes trying to figure out what it's a metaphor for.

You could probably show mother! to twenty different people and get twenty different interpretations of What It All Means. The movie is specific enough to convey an overall theme, yet general enough that each viewer can extrapolate his or her own personal meaning from it. That is a remarkable quality. Influencing other viewers with my own reading doesn't seem fair. That said, the true subject seems to be the state of the world itself and how it impacts parents or soon-to-be parents. This is truly a film for our troubled times.

The third act goes off the rails, yet it works because Aronofsky is in total control. Is mother! outrageous? Yes. Certain parts of it are also bombastic, confounding, and brutal. That's the point. The director purposefully makes it all of those things and more. My suspicion is that he doesn't care whether you love or hate what he's done, just so long as it makes you feel something. Aronofsky brings the story to a place that is the cinematic equivalent of throwing a match into a puddle of gasoline. Work to put the pieces together and it becomes clear that the movie's lunatic approach is the exact right way to go.

Jennifer Lawrence holds everything together with an intriguing performance. Almost every shot of her is a close-up, and Mother has less dialogue than you'd think. This requires the actress to be very physical, to convey what her character is feeling through reactions and facial expressions. She's terrific. The other standout is Pfeiffer, who does some of the year's best supporting work as the intrusive guest intent on digging through her host's psyche.

Aronofsky – whose other credits include Noah, The Wrestler, and Black Swan – once again relies on visual style to help create the right atmosphere. mother! has dark tones and a feeling of mounting dread reminiscent of Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby. Although set in present day, there's a late-'60s/early '70s vibe that adds to the overall effect.

It can't be emphasized enough that this movie is going to divide people sharply. But you know what? mother! is fearless in taking huge, non-commercial risks. We live in a time when most films play it relatively safe. This one is a great big “screw you” to the very concept of playing it safe. Something about that is exhilarating. You've never seen a movie like mother! before, and you'll probably never see another quite like it again. What could be better?

( out of four)


mother! is rated R for strong disturbing violent content, some sexuality, nudity and language. The running time is 2 hours and 1 minute.


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