Coming hot on the heels of the recent devastation wrought by flooding in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida, filmmaker Darren Aronofsky’s new movie “Mother!” is a strangely timely allegory about creation, the environment and how humans treat the environment. Unfortunately, it is also a confusing and often disturbing mess, with a second half filled with shocking violence and imagery that includes an occult twist on holy Communion.
More a sprawling chain of events than an actual story, the film follows the viewpoint of a young unnamed woman the credits list as Mother (Jennifer Lawrence), her strangely tense relationship with her husband (Javier Bardem, known only as Him) and the bizarre and violently chaotic occurrences that begin when a mysterious couple known only as Man (Ed Harris) and Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrive at their remote rural house without warning.
Mother is totally renovating the large wooden house, which Him nearly lost in a fire that caused him to have total writer’s block despite having been a successful poet. When Man and Woman show up separately, Him quickly invites them to stay there, over the concerns of Mother.
Woman starts asking Mother inappropriately personal questions about why she is childless, sparking a later confrontation in which Him suddenly has sex with her — and Mother announces she’s pregnant the very next day.
Him is so inspired by the news of the child that he instantly crafts an epic poem, but all the happy news is interrupted by the arrival of Man and Woman’s two adult sons. One jealously kills the other after learning he’s been left out of a newly revised will, leading to a bizarre wake filled with dozens of their friends and family.
As hordes of fans also arrive seeking autographs after Him’s poem is an instant success, Mother starts to lose her mind while her pregnancy rapidly develops. Events spiral out of control in the film’s final half hour, with graphic beatings, stomping, shootings, stabbings, a shocking death and the aforementioned occult ritual.
“Mother!” initially has some darkly funny charm as Mother contends with the visiting Man and Woman, and Him’s oddly fast embrace of the couple and their strange behavior. But the second half is far too unhinged to be palatable for anyone.
As Mother, Lawrence spends the first half of the movie largely looking sad and confused, and its second half screaming and engaged in frantically violent behavior as both perpetrator and victim. Bardem has a creepy magnetic charm as Him, and Harris and Pfeiffer offer some fun intrigue in their roles. But their disappearance well before the final third of the film leaves a largely undistinguished mob of actors to recklessly trash Mother’s house and severely abuse her.
While the movie is extremely confusing, its intentions as a politically correct environmentalist message movie were clarified by two handouts that its studio, Paramount, distributed to critics at the advance screening. One is a written statement by Aronofsky, in which he bemoans overpopulation and the U.S. response to climate change, and admits that he allowed his darkest thoughts to hit the screen.
The other is a version of the Lord’s Prayer, rewritten by a woman named Rebecca Solnit to become “Mother’s Prayer,” which is directed to Mother Earth and shifts the focus of worship and glory from God to the planet. This blasphemous aspect of “Mother!” (which is rated R) and the aforementioned ritual clarifies the movie’s intention as godless environmental propaganda and, along with its disturbing violence, makes this a movie that mothers and others should avoid.