Mother!

Aronofsky's latest heavy-handed fever dream begins with a brief closeup of a burning woman's face. We then see the charred remains of an old house magically un-char before our very eyes as the camera floats through the hallway, ending on a bed, in which a figure magically appears under the sheets and rises. It is Jennifer Lawrence. She looks around and says, "Baby?" "Baby" happens to be her husband, a famous but frustrated poet, played by Javier Bardem. Two hours of uneasiness quickly ensues.

The first half of Mother! is a tease: it's one of those "what's going on?" films, where everything is just off enough to encourage guesswork. Employing a number of horror tropes – a creaky old house, a couple mild jump scares, suspicious houseguests (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) – the film leads you on for a while, letting you struggle to put the clues together. Are we in for Rosemary's Baby or are we in for The Shining? Soon enough, you'll find out.

If you already have an interest in seeing Mother!, and you're okay with Aronofsky's hysterical, horror-opera approach to filmmaking, then your best bet is to watch the movie without knowing any more than what I've already told you.

If, however, you're not planning to catch the film, and you just want to know what it's about, I'll give it away in this paragraph. For any serious discussion of Mother! depends on this slow reveal, which I sussed out about halfway through the film. In short: it's a religious allegory, with Lawrence's nameless character, the "Mother" of the title, representing Mother Nature, or Love, or Gaia, or something like that, and Bardem's character being God, the Judeo-Christian Creator. Harris and Pfeiffer are Adam and Eve, and the rest of the story follows the Bible, eventually hitting us over the head with its metaphors. There are murkier allusions – for example, Lawrence sometimes consumes a turmeric-like substance, without explanation – which may have to do with the Old Testament or with pagan tradition. Shrug.

Mother! is extremely misanthropic and anti-religious. It's also pretty juvenile. Aronofsky, at 48, has all the subtlety of a 20-year-old film student who believes he's got it all figured out, man. When you note that at his age, Fellini, Bergman, and Kurosawa had already made emotionally and morally complex (and entertaining!) classics like 8 1/2, Wild Strawberries, and Rashomon, respectively, you realize how sophomoric Aronofsky's worldview really is.

Still, Mother! gave me food for thought, even though it may not be what was intended. To wit: Aronofsky and Lawrence are currently dating. Aronofsky is the same age as Bardem – which is to say, 21 years older than Lawrence. (The age difference between Lawrence and Bardem is called out in the film.) Thus it isn't impossible to find parallels between the writer/director and Bardem's "Creator" character: both men claim to be inspired by Lawrence's warmth and beauty; both exploit her, in one way or another, to fuel their own egos and careers. And without giving away the ending, the circular nature of the narrative suggests that Lawrence is just one in a series of muses for Aronofsky. At any rate, the director surely knew of Lawrence's 2014 turmoils with hacked nude photos, and of her general ambivalence about being in the spotlight, when he cast her as the perpetually violated "Mother". It adds a meta layer to the film, even if Lawrence herself doesn't get much to do except act frightened and confused. "What's going on?" indeed.