Edwin Arnaudin: Darren Aronofsky has lost his damn mind.
Bruce Steele: Since Aronofsky has established himself as a connoisseur of human suffering, I’m not sure why you think mother! is all that different from, say, Noah. Both movies fetishize cruelty and destruction.
Edwin: But there’s artistry from the get-go in Noah — and likable characters. Not so much here in either department. I’m sorry the writer/director suffers so much while creating art and is a beast on his real-life female partners (Rachel Weisz and now new leading lady Jennifer Lawrence), but the conveyance of his inner turmoil here annoyed me.
Bruce: I was liking the movie at the start, with its opening images establishing that we are in some kind of dream space or fantasy realm. It reminded me of The Others, with Lawrence’s character in the Nicole Kidman role. She wakes up thinking she has a happy life with her poet husband (Javier Bardem) and then strange people (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) show up and won’t leave. So far, so good, no?
Edwin: I find Lawrence a limited performer whose lack of range is exposed when asked to express pain or sadness, though early on in mother! she excels at relaying the bewilderment of her situation. But the ambiguous storytelling, absence of music and Aronofsky’s handheld camerawork left me unable to connect with the characters and their ill-defined conflict.
Bruce: I’m not going to disagree about Lawrence’s emotional range, but she does have a physical self-awareness and lack of inhibition that serves her well here. Aronofsky exploits her beauty and she struts in response, especially in early scene of her wandering around this big old house.
Edwin: Then Pfeiffer’s immature, entitled visitor arrives and starts her judgmental, stream-of-consciousness babbling and, like Lawrence’s housewife, I was ready for the uninvited guest to leave. Instead, we just get more of the same for another 90-plus minutes.
Bruce: There’s a considerable shift about halfway through from weird, uncomfortable dream to full-on nightmare, and that’s when the movie lost me. The allegory is thumpingly clear — artist sacrifices his loved one in favor of fame and glory — but after a while it’s just thumping. A drubbing, even, verging on audience abuse.
Edwin: Even with the personal torture, I kind of admire the chaos of the film’s most frantic scenes. The fast-talking insanity is so unrealistic that it feels like a bubonic dark version of Veep. The dangerous allure doesn’t last long, and I don’t exactly want to experience it again, but I can’t deny its presence.
Bruce: As the literal depiction of a nightmare, with the shape-shifting logic of a dream, it’s impressive. As a movie, it becomes aggressively annoying. And the dream setting doesn’t excuse Aronofsky from his duty as writer and director to dramatize the central relationship. I had no feeling for bond between Lawrence and Bardem’s nameless couple.
Edwin: Same here. It’s too nebulous to form any sort of attachment, so when the excrement hits the proverbial fan, there’s no reason to care about what happens to them. I just wanted it to end, yet Aronofsky kept pounding me on the head with his intensely personal message until I wanted to demand he retire from filmmaking forever. And this is someone whom, for me, has only made good-to-great movies prior to now!
Bruce: I have yet to see an Aronofsky film I’ve liked, as you know, although I still haven’t seen Black Swan. I had hope for this one early on, looking forward to the big reveal that would connect the dream back to the real world and explain why Lawrence is trapped in this dream. But it never comes. I didn’t hate mother! as passionately as I did Noah, though, so I’ll give it a weak D.
Edwin: His fall from grace marks the second time this year that a filmmaker with a formerly perfect record has delivered a stinker. James Ponsoldt’s The Circle is the other, but it might as well be Logan Lucky or T2 Trainspotting when compared with mother! Infuriating as I felt watching it, however, I can’t give it the “F” my heart want me to deliver, so I’ll go with the A.V. Club’s so-called “gentleman’s F”: D-minus.
Grade: D. Rated R. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande, Carolina Cinemark and Grail Moviehouse
(Photos: Paramount Pictures)