Oh, the horrors! ‘mother’ an exhausting carnival of chaos

What is “mother!”? The coy publicity for this non-capitalized movie hasn’t revealed much.

Well, it’s a horror movie for sure, although not much like the usual kind where characters foolishly go down into dark basements. Even though characters do go foolishly down into dark basements here.

It’s also an art movie, given all the pretentious aspirations that writer-director Darren Aronofsky can summon. And if you’ve seen “Black Swan” or “The Fountain,” you know Aronofsky can get pretentious.

It might also be one of the more misanthropic movies ever made. Other people are not just a nuisance but a nightmare in “mother!”, to the point that you can’t blame the heroine for wanting to lock the doors and keep everybody out.

She (there are no character names) is played by Jennifer Lawrence, a relatively new bride to an older, well-known poet (Javier Bardem). She’s restored his isolated country house, which was all but destroyed in a fire.

One day their lives are interrupted by two strangers (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, the latter in especially lively form), a rude couple who may have been drawn to the house by the poet’s celebrity. The poet, suffering from writer’s block, is pleased to have the adulation, and possibly material for future work.

This intrusion is annoying enough, and the early section of the film is wonderfully creepy in its unsettling depiction of people who just won’t take a hint. Aronofsky leaves his camera right in Jennifer Lawrence’s face, leaving no doubt that we’re meant to see this bad dream through her perspective (her performance is a model of quick, intense reactions).

Then things escalate. Oh boy, do they escalate. At one point the house becomes a kind of theater for all the chaos of modern life: terrorism, protests, religious fanaticism, militarization run amok.

Did we mention this movie is pretentious?

I didn’t buy into all of Aronofsky’s carnival of madness (the constant handheld camera, and the murky light of Matthew Libatique’s photography, takes its toll at 121 minutes). “Mother!” does have the virtue of being funny, although its black humor is under the skin. This is more than can be said for the rest of Aronofsky’s extremely serious body of work.

As bizarre as “mother!” is, the theme is actually spelled out pretty explicitly: This is a depiction of how one person’s need for more than reciprocal love can doom a relationship.

That Aronofsky drags us through hell to get the point is either inspired or sadistic. I think maybe it’s a little of both — and the movie itself is one of a kind.

“mother!” 2 1/2 stars

The young wife (Jennifer Lawrence) of a well-known poet (Javier Bardem) finds their isolated life invaded by bizarre fans of her husband’s work. Darren Aronofsky directs this nightmare as an escalating carnival of chaos, and the movie manages to be funny, pretentious and rather exhausting.

Rating: R, for violence, language

Opening Friday: Alderwood, Alderwood Mall, Cinnebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Meridian, Pacific Place, Sundance Cinemas Seattle, Thornton Place Stadium, Woodinville, Cascade Mall

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