It’s immediately clear that “mother!” is not to be taken literally, as it starts with a reverse time-lapse of a rotting corpse in a bed forming back into a sleeping Jennifer Lawrence. That sort of thing doesn’t happen literally, not where I come from. The pleasure in writer-director Darren Aronofsky’s feverishly surrealistic allegory about God and His creations is seeing how he (Aronofsky) translates it into a domestic horror story that’s riveting even when you don’t understand why things are happening. Which I guess is a good metaphor for life, too.

Nobody has names here; the credits call Lawrence’s character Mother. Initially photographed so as to emphasize her suppleness and fertility, she has an idyllic, peaceful life in a spacious country house with her somewhat older husband, Him (Javier Bardem), a renowned poet. (A renowned poet? See, this can’t be literal.) Mother is nearly finished with the monumental task of restoring each room in the house after a tragic fire that occurred before she met Him; he’s hoping she will be the muse who gets him out of his writer’s block. He hasn’t created in ages.

Out of nowhere there arrives a Man (Ed Harris — not bad for a Man) whom Him invites to stay the night. The Man’s very presence upsets Mother physically, but her husband didn’t ask her opinion before making the offer. We soon see a pattern: nobody listens to Mother. She tends to everyone’s needs, but her own feelings are ignored. When the Man’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives, the two are an almost comical pair of rude, brazen houseguests, entertained and indulged by Him while Mother cleans up. And then their two sons show up, fighting…

Have you figured it out yet? Mother is Mother Nature, Gaia, the Earth goddess. The house is an extension of herself, its sudden outbreaks of wood rot and other injuries a manifestation of her emotions. (When she places her hand on the wall, she feels a heartbeat.) Her husband is God, whose need to create and be loved leads Him to admit intruders into their paradise who trample everything and ignore Mother Nature’s warnings. God gets all the glory, but Mother is the one burdened with the temporal support of His creatures. When death is introduced to this world, it creates a whole new way for Mother to feel pain and anguish, represented by the ever-burning furnace in the basement.

[Continue reading at Crooked Marquee.]


A- (2 hrs., 1 min.; R, some strong violence and disturbing images, a bit of sexuality and partial nudity, and some strong profanity.)