"What's happening?" Jennifer Lawrence’s unnamed character asks at one point during the final stretch of mother! It's a good question. Director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream) has kept his latest project shrouded in complete secrecy -- or as much secrecy is possible, considering it is a studio film starring one of the most famous and talk show-friendly actresses in Hollywood.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter. I could tell you scene-by-scene exactly what happens in mother! and you would not be spoiled. Because I saw the movie, and I don’t know exactly what happened. And though mother! is now in theaters, I will do my best to go light on major spoilers.
That bigger idea is mostly confined to the second half of the movie, which hasn't been a focus in the advertising. (Harris and Pfeiffer's storyline ultimately only makes up a small percentage of the final film.) Viewing mother! retroactively after seeing the latter half, it is downright Biblical. Lawrence is Mother Earth. Bardem's Him is God. (Note the capitalization.) Their home, which Mother aspires to make a "paradise," is Eden. Harris is Adam, Pfeiffer is Eve, their feuding sons are Cain and Abel. The movie even has its own flood. In structure, at least, this is a brief history of...everything: Humankind, religion, politics, war. Watching it unfold becomes so unbelievably insane -- and escalates so quickly getting there -- that when gunshots ring out and corpses pile up and houseguests turn to the occult and cannibalization and then Kristen Wiig pops up, you have to laugh.
"It's a weird movie," Aronofsky acknowledges. "You go into it thinking you're watching one type of movie and it shifts into another type of movie. And then it keeps changing, and by the end, hopefully you're shaken and deeply moved."
Shaken is all but guaranteed, though how deeply you are ultimately moved by mother! is personal. Lawrence is in nearly every shot, but is the movie about her? Or just happening to her -- and, thus, us? Because of the nature of what the characters allegorically represent, they feel more like broad stoke ideas than real people, so you, the viewer, aren't able to become that emotionally invested in Mother's personal plight. Not that Lawrence isn't dynamic in the role. Though playing meek, she is more committed than ever as her character is put through the horror wringer again and again and again. Actors can get a bit self-aggrandizing bragging about how deep they delved into a role, but coming out of this, it's no wonder Lawrence tore her diaphragm! I'm surprised she hasn't talked about it more.
As for what Aronofsky is attempting to say in this, it must be more than just the creation story and man's treatment of Mother Earth. (Or, mother! Earth.) At points, it may be about: The transactional relationship between artist and muse and fans and who is owed what? Social media? How society treats women? The consuming nature of love? The destructive nature of loving an artist? (That Lawrence saw Aronofsky's final film and thought, "I want to date that guy" is ...wild.) Is mother! a movie with just so much to say that it's difficult for just one message to come through? Or does it have nothing too new to say, but screams itself into existence anyway?
"There are so many different messages, so many different ways that you can read everything in the film," Lawrence, who calls the script an "assault," told ET. "I'm mostly excited about watching the arguments. I like watching the controversy. Hearing people argue over this movie is just music to our ears, because that's why [Aronofsky] made it."
Whatever you end of thinking of mother! -- it's impossible to imagine the film won't be divisive -- it is a movie you will need to talk about. You can't leave the theater and go quietly into the night with this one. Me? I haven't stopped thinking about it since I saw it, worming its way into my brain like a strange Ed Harris in the night and making itself at home in my subconscious. (I can't remember the last time a movie did that.) So...let's discuss.