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'Mother!': Oh, Brother!

By Michael S. GoldbergeriBerkshires film critic
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Fearing that I might be scarred for life after seeing Darren Aronofsky's "Mother!" I am happy to relate that slowly but surely the grotesque concepts and visions of this postmodern horror film are dissipating from my fragile and offended psyche. I mean, I am safe, aren't I? Hopefully it's not part of a grander trick. 
 
This is sinister stuff, intentionally as well as through the error of its haughty self-indulgence. Oh, dear reader be cautious. It starts out with intriguing eeriness ... even a bit Hitchcockian. No offense, Master. But that's just to suck you into its ugly movie Hell.
 
For sure there will be a cult following by virtue of its violent belligerence. But that's not hard to achieve in today's social climate, where insolence and crudeness for their own sake readily find adherents. Y'know, anything to inspire an aggressively messaging T-shirt or cap. However, unlike the great horror movies Aronofsky attempts to emulate, imitate and do one better than, "Mother!" like the temporary insanity that has gripped portions of our population, is a confluence of base instincts, the juncture where Pretension Street crosses Evil Alley.
 
Thus the short review is, I didn't like "Mother!" let alone what concerns I might have for my future mental health. Still, in an ACLU sort of fairness, where duty requires a just appraisal even for things decidedly abhorrent, it must be noted that filmmaker Aronofsky's instrument is vastly talented, if for the moment misapplied. All the tools are evident. But in reaching headlong for the cineaste's brass ring, he has wrought his "Heaven's Gate" (1980), a mishmash of farfetched ideas tossed together in a conceited flaunting of one's assumed success.
 
Or, as my esteemed high school English teacher, Dave Stamelman, once affirmed after I handed in a lazily written book review, "Goldberger, you're living on your laurels." (I had to look it up.)
 
In any case, Aronofsky, this was a big waste of time and gosh knows how many new wings of children's hospitals might have been constructed for the reported $30 million it cost. OK, your "Noah" (2014) was disappointing, but putting Mickey Rourke in "The Wrestler" (2008) was inspired, and well, your "Black Swan" (2010), it goes without saying.
 
Credentials noted, it shouldn't be surprising if some film school professors show portions of this Harvard grad's failed magnum opus, solely to point out his skilled technique, eye for texture and the generous opportunity he affords his actors. Translating his vision to the screen, Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem are real pieces of work as the otherwise nameless power couple known simply as Mother and Him. 
 
He's a writer of some sort. She is his inspiration. There are no kids ... yet.
 
They live in what on the surface seems like the idyllic manse in the country. Once a rambling old wreck, doubtlessly it has been restored way beyond any former glory. But alas, the writer has that most feared of scribbler's afflictions. I don't even like to identify it. And naturally, the poor, suffering spouse of any such gridlocked wielder of words is to blame, even if it's not true and regardless of how much he assures her to the contrary. It matters not that she is forever deciding on colors of walls and making things comfy. She is his Zelda, berated just for being.
 
Enter into this pastoral tension the proverbial stranger, the suspicious catalyst extraordinaire. Seeming to have arrived out of nowhere and played by Ed Harris, he is listed in the credits as Man. Identifying himself as an orthopedic surgeon recently hired by the local hospital, wherever that may be in this vast, unidentified rusticity, he offers no real purpose for his arrival.
 
Nevertheless, the writer welcomes in the interloper as if he were an old friend. We empathize with the wife's disbelieving uneasiness, and join her in a mutual "Huh?"
 
Up until just past this point, when the supposed doc's wife played by Michelle Pfeiffer also shows up, it's all pretty engaging. But the enigmatic bemusement soon runs its course, our inquiries of "What's going on?" quelled by the sudden void of creativity. Pity. After setting the stage with such baffling whimsy, it is clear that with no plot-twist novelty a la M. Knight Shyamalan, let alone O. Henry, Aronofsky has painted himself into a corner. Having nowhere to go, he relegates his film to common bedlam.
 
An obnoxious Sturm und Drang follows: a sloppy buffet of cinema notions sourced from the shelf of clichéd motifs. There's a little of Dante's Inferno, a touch of Marat Sade, and a smidgen of F.W. Murnau's "Nosferatu" (1922). I wouldn't have been surprised if the director had even injected an idea or two from "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" (1948). It would have made no difference, for this is a film only a "Mother!" could love.
 
"Mother!," rated R, is a Paramount Pictures release directed by Darren Aronofsky and stars Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem and Ed Harris. Running time: 121 minutes
 
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