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‘mother!’ is both thought provoking and confounding

This is a movie with an exclamation point, literally and figuratively. When the title first comes up on the screen, it says “mother” and then an exclamation point is emphatically slapped onto the end of it. And ultimately, this film is like one big exclamation point, or rather, like a series of them, each one bigger than the last. It’s over-the-top filmmaking that revels in its excesses.

Rarely has such an A-list cast (Oscar winners Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, along with a great Michelle Pfeiffer) starred in such a bizarro personal directorial vision. Darren Aronofsky has made a number of acclaimed films (“The Wrestler,” “The Fighter,” “Requiem for a Dream”), but his movie that most resembles “mother!” is “Black Swan,” a portrait of a psychologically troubled ballet dancer (Natalie Portman.)

Jennifer Lawrence in “mother!” is like Natalie Portman’s character squared, or even quadrupled. She plays a young wife who’s having an increasingly hard time coping with the psychological pressures of married life.

Living a seemingly trouble-free life with her celebrity-writer husband (Javier Bardem), she spends most of her days remodeling their isolated Victorian mansion. That peaceful existence is broken with a late-night knock at their door.

“What brings you to us?”

“Well they told me I could find a room here.”

The man (Ed Harris) and his wife (Michelle Pfeifer) worm their way into their hosts’ lives, much to the dismay of Lawrence’s character. As the guests become more and more presumptuous, she becomes more and more unsettled and disoriented – in her own home.

At this point, “mother!” is something of a dark, naturalistic comedy of manners. But that eventually explodes into an all-out frenzy of visions and nightmares, as Lawrence’s fears take center stage. Her house that she has painstakingly restored is under increasing threat. And a sudden pregnancy only increases her fragility and paranoia.

The film moves into the arena of metaphor and allegory, such that every thing and every action becomes symbolic – of what, it’s hard to be sure. Religious iconography mixes with horror movie conventions to create a thought-provoking but also head-scratching experience. Multiple interpretations seem possible, sometimes dependent on whether you see the film’s ultimate focus to be Javier Bardem’s character – identified only as “Him” – or Jennifer Lawrence’s – known only as “Mother.”

Whatever you decide it means, make sure it comes with an exclamation point.

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