Darren Aronofsky’s new movie is a biblical allegory about the invasion of a rural Eden by the vandals of the world. Or perhaps it’s not about anything much at all
By Jay Stone
TORONTO — In 2006, filmmaker Darren Aronofsky — best known at the time for his disturbing drama Requiem For A Dream — made the absurd cosmic love story The Fountain. It was about a couple chasing one another through the time and space of an irritating cosmos of spiritual set design, and it starred Rachel Weisz, then the director’s romantic partner.
They have since split, and Aronofsky is now dating Jennifer Lawrence, the star of his new movie, mother! After redeeming himself with such films as The Wrestler and Black Swan, he has returned to the murky business of making grand metaphorical showcases for his new love. mother! is another epic of self-regard, this time about nothing less than Creation itself, and the horrors that are visited upon poor Jennifer Lawrence. It has become clear that being Darren Aronofsky’s girlfriend is an invitation to creative fiasco. He is a serial abuser of promising careers.
mother!, with its grating lower-case first letter, is a kind of horror movie about home invasions so preposterously grandiose you don’t know where the comedy ends and the allegory begins. Lawrence plays the younger wife of a famous writer (a sad-eyed Javier Bardem), who lives in a grand Victorian mansion in an empty field, a place she is renovating after a fire destroyed everything except a magical crystal that the Bardem character keeps mounted in his study.
One day a stranger (Ed Harris) drops by and is invited to stay the night. The next day his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) joins him, and later there will be hordes of relatives and friends of this rude, aggressive and immovable couple, who break things, insult the hostess, pry into her private life, wonder why she isn’t pregnant yet, and refuse to leave.
In the second half of the movie, after things have calmed down, there is another invasion, led by a group of reporters who have come to interview the famous writer. They are eventually joined by an army of fans who vandalize, despoil and loot the place.
Meanwhile, the house itself drips with the tropes of a horror movie: pulsating walls, strange noises, people who pop up behind suddenly opened doors, and a bleeding hole that has been cut into the floorboards. Lawrence is called upon to race up and down stairs trying to shoo away the intruders or repair some of the damage, while Bardem, the much older husband — and for the record, Aronofsky is 48 and Lawrence is 27 — ignores the invaders because he is so flattered by the attention.
Is it a nightmare? A drug-induced fantasy? It feels like two hours of community service. None of it is remotely frightening, except in the sense that it devours 117 minutes of one’s rapidly dwindling life, but it is profoundly exasperating. Any post-screening discussion of what the hell it is supposed to mean will resemble a Grade 12 English seminar. At the post-screening press conference, Aronofsky said the film was a biblical allegory, and you can see how it’s supposed to work: the house as Eden, Harris and Pfeiffer as Adam and Eve, Bardem representing the put-upon Creator, Lawrence embodying the abused female side of human nature, and the invaders being you and I, vandals betraying the ideals of the very things we worship. What’s wrong with you?
Alternatively, it may be about nothing at all. It is an unhinged disaster that is, alas, a continuation (after the much-derided Noah) of Aronofsky’s slow fade. Requiem for a dream indeed.
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