Oh, Mother! Can this really be the end, to be stuck in J-Law’s earhole with the Messiah blues again? Scene after scene, in tight closeups on Jennifer Lawrence’s face, we peer into her eyeballs as if we were ophthalmologists. Watching Mother! you’d suspect that Lawrence was wearing a mechanical camera rig to follow her as closely as possible.
She’s been accused of overacting, but with the camera this close, it’s Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) who imprisons her. Every bad thing that happens—rather, every thing that’s probably going to turn out bad—follows with a cut to Lawrence so she can react to it. We know exactly how she feels at every moment. Some ambiguity would have spiced this Kafka-like fable that does a backflip into religious allegory.
It’s a Repulsion-style study of the walls closing in; Mother (Lawrence) is rebuilding a rambling farmhouse somewhere in the country. Her husband, twice her age, is called “Him” (Javier Bardem)—a poet walled in by serious writer’s block. One evening, a guest calls, unknown to Mother but slightly known by Him. The man (Ed Harris) is a boorish orthopedic surgeon, a smirking bastard who smokes in the house, even after he’s been requested to stop. Him can’t get enough of the pushy man of medicine, and goes off hiking and talking with him. Later, the doctor’s unnamed wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives. Some Feud-style amusement can be had in watching the reigning female star of 1980s cinema emotionally roughing up the reigning female star of today’s film.
For the first two thirds of Mother!, we watch Mother’s anxiety climb. As she wards off hallucinations with glasses of pretty yellow fizzing medicine, crowds arrive to tear Mother’s home to pieces.
The movie’s best idea is the summing up of Him’s fantastically popular poem in a silent tableau of love and conflagration. We never hear it read aloud or understand its gist. But the tight camera overexposes Lawrence’s face. You’re reduced to spending an hour or so counting the moles on her neck.