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Laramie Movie Scope: Mother!

The house guests from hell

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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September 19, 2017 -- Writer-director Darren Aronofsky doesn't mind going off the deep end in his movies, like the drill scene in “Pi” or the self-stabbing scene in “Black Swan.” He does it again in this movie with a savage book celebration party that devolves into cannibalism, murder and full scale war.

The beginning of the film telegraphs the ending, sort of, but there is no way to really tell what is coming in this film from one moment to the next. Jennifer Lawrence (“The Hunger Games”) stars as the Mother (the characters don't have names in this film, just descriptive titles) the main character in this film, which is shot from her perspective. The camera seems to hover within inches of her face throughout the film, so you can hardly see anything else but her face.

This kind of closeup is a staple of the horror film genre. This is done so you can't see the killer sneaking up on her out of sight of the camera. But this is no horror film, well, maybe you could call it that. The camera placement, like that in horror films, shows you that Mother, while being the center of the film, is not the master of her fate. She is bound to be a victim of forces beyond her control. This is just one of the things in this movie designed to generate anxiety.

We see Mother painting a room, looking at the wall and seeing the beating heart of the house in her mind's eye. She has put her heart and soul into this house, and into her marriage, but her husband has not. She is not at ease, she has frequent bouts of nausea, and often takes some kind of yellow powdered drug mixed with water to treat these symptoms.

Her husband, played by Javier Bardem of “No Country for Old Men,” a renowned author with writer's block (I will call him the Poet just to keep these characters straight in this review) seems supportive enough, until strangers invade their rural isolated home, exposing the problems in their marriage. The strangers, played by Ed Harris (“Frontera”) and Michelle Pfeiffer (“Hairspray”) arrive out of nowhere. He is a dying man who loves the writings of this Poet. The Poet, who craves this man's worship, becomes his host. The Poet invites these people to stay, despite his wife's increasing alarm.

These guests are really terrible. They are simultaneously rude and inconsiderate, insulting her, while heaping praise on the Poet. The Poet soaks up the attention and friendship he gets from these people while ignoring his wife's increasing anxiety. Then more guests arrive from the same family, including grown children fighting over their father's will. Things quickly devolve into chaos. The Poet invites them all in. Mother is simply overwhelmed by all these increasingly rude, inconsiderate and destructive guests.

The situation quickly escalates out of control with rape, murder and a wild funeral party that gets way out of control, all thanks to the Poet agreeing to host these events at the house. After that, things seem to get back to normal, sort of, but that's just the calm before the storm near the end of the film. The situation in the house increasingly becomes an enormously exaggerated distortion of reality, morphing into fantasy.

A person who marries an artist has to share their spouse with the rest of the world, and some people, like poor, fragile Mother, are not up to the task. Poet loves the adulation of his readers and wants to share everything he has with them, but Mother wants strict boundaries between them and her family. Mother has put a lot of herself into the house they live in, and that house, herself and everything else she has created, is devoured by her husband and his greedy followers. In the end, she has nothing left. She has given every bit of herself to her husband, whose neediness knows no limits.

The acting is superb in this film, especially by Jennifer Lawrence and Michelle Pfeiffer, who is a revelation in this film as the cruel, shrewish, inconsiderate, pushy wife of Ed Harris' character. Her performance is incredibly powerful. One of many odd things about this film: There is no musical score.

This film devolves into chaos, fire, death and total destruction as a murderous mob consumes and destroys everything in the home except the Poet himself, and he seems O.K. with that. Clearly, this is the story of a marriage in which an artist drains the life out of his wife to fuel his art. This allegorical story lends itself to a number of interpretations, political, environmental or religious, to name a few. I thought of Jennifer Lawrence's character's devastation in this film was like Hillary Clinton's devastation in the last election.

This film can also be seen as a continuation of the self sacrifice theme expressed “Black Swan” where the woman gives up her life for the artistic vision of a man. In “Black Swan” the dancer gives up her life for the artistic vision of the director of the opera. In this film, the woman gives up her life for the artistic vision of the poet. In both cases, the woman is not important enough to survive on her own. She is an essential, but ultimately subordinate and disposable, muse.

Javier Bardem's character is kind of like Donald Trump, repeatedly discarding his old wives and replacing them with new wives, all the while basking in the glow of his followers. This cycle of wife replacement is suggested by the final scene of the movie. Others see this movie in environmental terms with Mother being Mother Earth, destroyed by the greed and thoughtlessness of men.

I thought I knew where this film was headed at the beginning, since the opening scene foreshadows the end, but so many things in this film are unpredictable. Unlike 99 percent of movies coming out of Hollywood these days, this is an original film, and I have not seen its equal this year. This is like the work of a mad genius. It is a twisted masterpiece of a film that never allows the viewer become comfortable. It pushes every boundary. This film rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2017 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)