Darren Aronofsky’s “Mother!” is a dark and demonic “home invasion” satire that’s guaranteed to deplete your mental stamina. Employing peak craftsmanship and scorching performances from its cast, the movie paradoxically is near impossible to recommend. Its onslaught of repetitive torture towards its protagonist – and by extension the audience – will be too burdensome for some to endure. Several instances near the end test one’s limit of remaining seated in place, fixated on humanity’s scummiest form. The auteur has evolved his twisted sensibilities, culminating in the single most disturbing horror movie ever made. The real question lingering over “Mother!” is whether its thematic brilliance is worth the price of unimaginable torment.
Jennifer Lawrence, exhibiting pathos that would make “A Woman Under the Influence’s” Gena Rowlands proud, stars as the abiding yet cautionary Grace. Wife to a sterling poet (Javier Bardem), Grace dutifully embraces her new role as taskmaster of reconstruction. The couple lives an isolated existence in an unfinished grand estate, seemingly free of outside bombardment. Rearing for a career revival, Grace’s husband Eli believes his creative juices will flow once their home is renovated accordingly. Eli wants their property to mirror his childhood estate that was destroyed in a fire. What remains of the destruction is a shimmering stone that recalls “Beauty and the Beast’s” enchanted wilting rose. Like the aforementioned classic, this precious object is safeguarded in Eli’s office, forbidden to touch without perilous consequences ensuing.
During her meticulous home improvement, Grace begins developing an unnatural maternal bond with the house. Pretty soon, Grace goes full Winona Ryder from “Stranger Things,” astutely sensing that her dwelling contains a supernatural life-force. Before she can contemplate further, Eli and Grace’s tranquility is shattered by a married couple who amplify the D in “drama.” Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris play a wife and husband superfan duo, the latter of whom is fulfilling his dying wish by meeting Eli. Without consulting Grace, Eli not only invites the pair to stay with the couple, but subsequently involves himself in a family squabble of epic proportions. From there, Grace loses all semblance of control as Eli’s ego becomes unquenchable for attention and reverence.
The film then spirals into dastardly levels of domestic terrorism. What is seen cannot ever be unseen, and Aronofsky knows full well he’s trapped us in his web of human depravity. “Mother!” serves as an allegory of continued female subservience and abuse at the hands of men for their “eminence” to shine. Just like Hillary Clinton during those televised debates, Grace’s pleas go ignored and unheard, drowned out by mostly male voices who wrongly believe they have life’s answers.
Aronofsky emphasizes the dangers in sole male authority by essentially repeating two major sequences, the latter of which delivers on a grander, more sadistic scale. With men in total unbending control, history has repeated its violent and chaotic ways time and again. The solution is beyond clear, but the majority continue to fall into line of obeying the old guard. There’s nothing more terrifying than a united mob of singular devotion to an ancient, evil cause. The fact that Grace combats it with as much nerve and patience as she can muster is remarkable. Then again, on a less apocalyptic scale, women endure internal suffering of a similar nature with each passing day. “Mother!” is a movie that critiques society as a whole for allowing such one-sided dominance.
Awards talk is almost irrelevant for a film this polarizing, though Jennifer Lawrence deserves ample recognition for her haunting portrayal of tragic, unrequited devotion. Executed with confusing, impressionable precision, sound also hasn’t been this masterfully suspenseful since James Wan’s “The Conjuring.” Let’s hope the Academy’s ears don’t fail them in this category. Upon final reflection, though its message threatens to get lost in the bowels of its debauchery, “Mother!” is a necessary shot of adrenaline for those still sleepwalking in the land of oppression.
“Mother!” is distributed by Paramount Pictures and hits theaters on September 15.