Jennifer Lawrence shines in mother! but it's a pretentious, incoherent film

Jennifer Lawrence in mother! directed by Darren Aronofsky
Damon Smith

THE lower-case lettering and exclamation point of Darren Aronofsky's twisted psychological thriller reflect the Oscar-nominated writer-director's nightmarish vision: intriguing, pretentious, confusing and ultimately pointless.

Fresh from rave reviews and deafening boos at the Venice Film Festival, mother! breaks its waters on these shores and gives birth to more questions than it intends to answer.

Aronofsky's two hours of escalating mayhem could be many things: a densely layered biblical allegory replete with plagues, a Messiah and cannibalistic communion; a coruscating study of the egotistical male psyche; a hallucinogenic portrait of the impact of the creative process on artist and muse; a home invasion thriller; a homage to author Ira Levin's works including Rosemary's Baby and A Kiss Before Dying.

mother! could be many things: coherent is not one of them.

If there is method in the film-maker's madness, it is frustratingly elusive, concealed behind layer upon layer of directorial brio, atmospheric sound design and an emotionally wrought lead performance from Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence.

She shines even when Aronofsky's picture plunges into the gloom.

Away from the cameras, auteur and actress are now dating. Let us pray art never imitates life.

A script punctuated by unsettling flashbacks strips characters of their Christian names, stoking the air of mystery.

A young woman (Lawrence) settles into the country home she shares with her husband (Javier Bardem), an acclaimed poet struck down with crippling writer's block.

Their house has been lovingly rebuilt after a devastating fire and the young wife has taken on the responsibility of interior designing the property by hand. The lovebirds are situated far from their closest neighbours and seem content to languish in the rut of their day-to-day existence.

One night, an enigmatic stranger (Ed Harris) – an orthopaedic surgeon with a hacking cough – arrives unannounced, mistakenly believing the couple's home to be a guesthouse.

The husband offers the man lodgings.

"He's a doctor," smiles the husband.

"He's a stranger," replies his concerned young spouse.

The next day, the visitor's waspish wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) materialises and violence percolates beneath the surface, exacerbated by the arrival of the surgeon's feuding sons (real-life siblings Domhnall and Brian Gleeson).

The young woman of the house grows increasingly unnerved by the presence of outsiders in her carefully ordered world and she slowly relinquishes her slender grasp on reality.

mother! is an artfully constructed, elliptical conundrum that invites us to become gob-smacked voyeurs as a talented film-maker pleasures himself for two hours.

Our satisfaction is considerably harder to come by.

The fragmented narrative slips and slides between moods and cultural references without any obvious design, held together by Lawrence, who is on screen for almost the entire duration.

It's a beautiful yet bamboozling nightmare that quickly fades to grey.

MOTHER! (18, 121 mins) Thriller/Horror/Romance. Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson. Director: Darren Aronofsky

RATING: 4/10

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