Entertainment

Jennifer Lawrence's New Horror Movie Is Absolutely Insane

It takes a while until you realize what mother! is about. Everything eventually clicks into place, even the title. If you'd like to experience what I did at the Toronto International Film Festival, I would recommend you STOP READING NOW. You have been warned.

Like The Sixth Sense, mother! becomes a whole new movie once its secrets are revealed. However, different people will have their “aha!” moment at different times. It's somewhat dependent on if you went to Sunday School (and if you paid attention). Darren Aronofsky's film is a compressed retelling of the Bible, and it's told from the POV of a non-Judeo-Christian figure, Jennifer Lawrence as (wait for it) Mother Nature. Or at least some play on the mythological Gaia. If that's not enough, it's got a new ending, one that borrows from tenets of some Eastern religions, like rebirth and multiple lives.

So we've got the stories of every known faith put into one movie, and it's all set inside one house. Hell is in the basement. Heaven's in the skylight. Maybe the surrounding trees are the Garden of Eden, or maybe that's the house itself, or… well, it's difficult to find a one-to-one comparison to everything, at least from the first viewing. Especially with the red herring marketing, which made me think I would be watching a cult horror film in the vein of Rosemary's Baby.

Things are creepy from the first scene, in which a young bride (Lawrence) is rebuilding her older husband's (Bardem) house. She's creating something beautiful, and is proud of her work. Her husband is a celebrated and wealthy poet, which ought to be the first clue that this movie is working on an allegorical level. (How many poets have bestsellers?) But while Bardem is clearly a good and visionary man, he -- or He -- sometimes seems uncaring. Lawrence's hard work in the relationship is underappreciated.

Trouble comes knocking when Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeffier show up, and Bardem lets them stay even though they are the rudest houseguests imaginable. Harris has a bruised rib. Then Pfeiffer tempts Harris into touching something in the house (something that inspires the poet) that he isn't supposed to. Then their kids come and one kills the other.

It wasn't until one brother killed the other that I had my personal aha! moment: of course it's when Cain killed Abel. What's so neat is that these obvious plot points from the Old Testament blaze by, and are even background to some of the other business on screen. (Pfeiffer's unnamed Eve functions in what we first think is a similar way to Ruth Gordon in Rosemary's Baby.) Aronofsky's camera is tight on Lawrence and we're completely caught up in her impending freak-out. All she wants is for these people to go away, but after the son's funeral, a party breaks out.

Strangers are carrying on and you wonder if maybe this is all a dream, until the obnoxious guests put too much weight on a sink, despite warnings. This flood (!) sends them all away. After a reset, Lawrence announces she is pregnant, and with that Bardem releases a new poem. The house is now swept up in visiting fans and paparazzi that soon devolves into chaos. And a retelling of the entirety of recorded human history (mostly war) in about two, very chaotic minutes. Again, all inside the house.

What's so cool is that you can, if you want to, read this movie on many levels, including a literal, supernatural one. It still works as a horror film about a woman going bonkers, and it also has its key gross-out scene. (There were some walkouts, but if Communion is consuming the Body of Christ, what do you expect that to look like?)

On an entirely different level mother! works as an allegory for fame, or the hardships of living with a genius. Maybe it is Aronofsky somewhat egotistically apologizing to his ex-wife. (And if so, considering the “renewal” aspect of the story, that might be a red flag for his current relationship partner, who happens to be Jennifer Lawrence herself.)

mother! is also extremely funny and has its share of jump-scares, so even if you aren't a hardcore vegan eco-warrior (the target audience for the message, in my interpretation) you may still dig this movie. But if you're baffled by what you saw (as some people at my screening were), simply open to chapter one in your family Bible.

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Jordan Hoffman is a film critic and writer whose work appears in The Guardian, Vanity Fair, and Mashable. Follow him on Twitter @jhoffman.