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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Writer-director Darren Aronofsky is a nut, and his latest film, Mother!, is one helluva nutty movie.

The film’s star, Jennifer Lawrence, is currently dating Aronofsky, a fact that infiltrates the mood of Mother! because the film takes aim at relationships, in a rather nasty way, among its many targets. Those targets also include the Bible, narcissism, celebrity, art, family, smoking and … oh yeah, motherhood. By the time Mother! is over, you might not know exactly what went down, but you know that what happened was rather cynical … highly stylized, loony, entertaining cynicism.

Lawrence plays Mother, an apparently kind-hearted partner to Him (Javier Bardem). They live in an old-style country house out in the middle of nowhere. Him is a writer, going through some major writer’s block and occasionally speaking of having lost everything in the past to a fire. He has some sort of crystalized object on a stand that he claims empowered him to move on after the fire. It’s in a room nobody is allowed to enter alone.

They live a quiet life in their little Eden, with Mother preparing meals while Man tortures himself, unable to produce a single word of his next great work. Then there’s a knock at the door. It’s Man (Ed Harris), soon to be followed by Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), a strange couple who wind up houseguests, thanks to Him’s hospitality—much to the chagrin of Mother.

Man and Woman invade Mother’s space, with Man huffing cigarettes and frequently vomiting from illness while Woman swills alcohol and asks Mother extremely personal questions. Eventually, Man and Woman’s two sons show up; if you’ve read the Bible, you can perhaps guess what happens when the whole family is under one roof.

Then … well, things get a little weird.

After a rage-inspired sex session, Mother becomes pregnant, and Man is suddenly fertile with ideas. He writes his next big thing, and their home is besieged by agents, fans, religious zealots, paparazzi, former Saturday Night Live cast members, policemen, soldiers, terrorists and fire. Mr. If there’s a takeaway from Mother! it’s that Aronofsky doesn’t have a pleasant attitude toward celebrity. Or Sunday school.

Lawrence lets it all go here, delivering her rawest, and sometimes angriest performance to date. Her character starts off placid and collected, but as more people show up, and more things get broken in the home she has quite literally put her heart and soul into, Lawrence’s Mother ratchets things up to psychotic levels. There’s something seething under the surface with Mother, and Man’s refusal to kick the invaders out of their home brings it up.

Bardem brings a “golly, gosh, gee whiz” quality to Him, interspersed with his own scary outbursts. (I’m thinking both Lawrence and Bardem went to therapy after wrapping this one.)

Harris is great as the first unwanted guest, clearly dying from something, but still able to do naughty things with the wife while the door’s open. Pfeiffer owns her role; this is her best work in years. She only has a few scenes, but all of them, especially one with Mother in the laundry room, leave a mark. The same can be said about Kristen Wiig, who takes a few minutes of screen time late in the film and kills it.

This is the second Aronofsky take on biblical themes. He treated the story of Noah like it was The Lord of the Rings a few years back, and now he’s treating it like Rosemary’s Baby meets The Shining. The film deals with creation in a way that ties into art, the universe, broken sinks and being left out of somebody’s will.

At times, the film is absolute chaos, but Aronofsky, the master behind Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan and The Fountain (another of his creationism meditations), keeps it all under control. Longtime collaborator Matthew Libatique provides impeccable cinematography yet again, making a total rebellion inside a country home look somehow realistic and perhaps even possible.

If you like your stories and scares straightforward, Mother! may frustrate you. However, if you have been having recent conversations about that puzzler that was David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, and you’ve watched Aronofsky’s The Fountain more than once, Mother! might be right up your alley.

Mother! is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I did my share of Bible-reading when I was a kid. In fact, I read it multiple times from cover to cover.

I was also reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy and a bunch of Stephen King books—and of all the literature I read as an impressionable youth, nothing was more violent and more insane than the Bible. Actually, the Bible may be the sickest book ever written when it comes to death and destruction. If you count the apocalypse, the whole world dies more than once in that particular piece of literature. That’s a huge body count!

Whether you are religious or not, the Bible is, no doubt, a pretty sweet platform for over-the-top cinema. With Noah, director Darren Aronofsky has concocted a crazy, dark and nasty disaster film befitting those few pages in the book of Genesis.

In what is surely his best performance to date, Russell Crowe plays the title character, a good, passionate man in a not-particularly-good time. The people outside of Noah’s family circle have turned Earth into a place of carnivorous debauchery, and “The Creator” (this film’s go-to name for God) intends to wipe all humanity off the face of the Earth with a great flood. Noah is tasked with saving the innocent animals on a huge ship that he is to build, with the help of large rock monsters.

That’s right—I said large rock monsters. This movie has rock monsters in it. They are Aronofsky’s version of fallen angels. I don’t remember reading about rock monsters in the Bible, but I will tell you that they come in quite handy when one is tasked with building a huge boat to house two of every animal on the planet. (That’s minus the sea-faring animals, of course. There were no aquariums on the ark. Dolphins and angelfish and whatnot probably just camped out under the stormy surface, while the sharks went to town on people clinging to mountain peaks and treetops in the rising waters. Sharks eating the biblically doomed as they scampered atop Mount Everest are not depicted in this film, but I reckon “Shark-Flood-Oh” could be coming soon to a cable channel near you.)

The supporting cast includes Jennifer Connelly as Noah’s wife; Emma Watson as his adopted daughter; and Anthony Hopkins as the Yoda-like, mountain-dwelling grandfather. Logan Lerman delivers notably good work as Ham, the son of Noah who eventually gets banished for seeing his dad all drunk and naked.

The movie, as a spectacle, is quite good, although its CGI does have a few moments of weakness. The flood itself is a frightening sequence, with a horrifying moment involving screaming people outside of the ark getting washed off a big rock by waves. I’m actually surprised this movie garnered a PG-13 rating. It struck me, very much, as an R-rated film due to its violence.

Noah is also a beautiful, inspiring story about survival, freewill, blind faith, killing in the name of religion and, above all, the virtues of veganism. It comes as no surprise that Aronofsky, who also co-wrote the script, is a vegan. It also comes as no surprise that the film’s main villain (Ray Winstone) bites the heads off of live animals for evil energy.

Yes, I had a blast with this movie. I imagine it will enrage a few pastors and preachers who bring their Sunday-school classes to a matinee, only to discover the rock monsters.

Noah is not a deeply religious film; it’s a big, bold disaster movie with a super-intelligent and compassionate core. Like the best of movies, it will inspire many long, perhaps fiery conversations for years to come.

Noah is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews