Chuck Koplinski: 'Mother!' a dark parable for our times

Chuck Koplinski: 'Mother!' a dark parable for our times

I remember that during one of my father's melancholy moments, of which there were many, he expressed a theory he had where God and human beings were concerned.

He felt that Earth and all that lived on it were simply an experiment in the Creator's eyes and that He watched and waited to see what we would do with all that He had given us until He felt we had squandered the opportunity to do good and live in peace.

At that point, God would leave us to our own devices and move on to a new experiment in the hopes that whatever lived there would meet His expectations. My father felt there were many, many failed experiments in many, many different galaxies.

Having seen Darren Aronofsky's "Mother!", I think that the director and my father would have a lot to discuss. A known provocateur with films such as "Requiem for a Dream," "The Fountain" and "Black Swan" on his resume, the director doesn't shy away from controversy and seemingly invites it here, with this tale of sacrifice, resurrection, redemption and some very strange goings-on in between.

Not for the faint of heart, the movie will be discussed and analyzed, parsed and annotated, with many interpretations bandied about. While not completely successful, "Mother!" does prove to be great art, as it challenges the audience with a new perspective on established mores and ideals, inviting debate that can lead to further understanding where its themes are concerned.

Much of the power of "Mother!" comes in the act of discovery, so any summation of the plot, such as it is, must be sparse. After a shockingly violent yet brief prologue involving an actress who looks suspiciously like Aronofsky's ex, Rachel Weisz (read into that what you will), we meet a poet (Javier Bardem) who lives in a rambling old mansion in the middle of nowhere.

His much-younger bride (Jennifer Lawrence) caters to his every need and is devoted to remodeling the home for him ("I want to make a paradise") so that he might have a relaxing environment in which to conquer his writer's block.

All is going swimmingly until they hear a knock on the door one evening and find a lost man (Ed Harris) on their doorstop who has mistaken their home for a bed and breakfast. The writer invites him to stay the night without consulting his wife. The next day, the visitor's wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up, makes herself at home and begins asking intrusive questions that leave her young hostess uncomfortable.

More I dare not say, but it wouldn't be giving too much away to say that the man and woman are far from the only visitors who end up trespassing on the home, all of whom make it their own in their own particular way.

Aronofsky composes much of the film with handheld shots that increasingly close in on Lawrence as the film goes on, emphasizing her sense of growing claustrophobia and anguish. This must have been an exhausting experience for the young actress, who is put through the wringer both physically and emotionally as her character falls apart, literally and figuratively.

What her destruction means is open to interpretation, though I suspect that brushing up on your Bible stories would be a good primer before taking this in. As I say, some of Aronofsky's concepts work and others don't, but his daring proves invigorating coming on the heels of this summer's cookie-cutter movies.

While there were moments when I was a bit confused, and more than a few that were off-putting, I was never bored with this film. Intriguing from the first frame to the last, "Mother!" is the sort of film that resonates long after the final credits roll, a work that begs to be seen repeatedly in order to unlock all the director wants to say.

It's not a pleasant movie to sit through, but examining a challenging work of art is often a thorny proposition, and "Mother!" is worth any nicks or cuts you might get along the way.

'Mother!' (★★★ 1/2 out of four)

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfieffer, Brian Gleeson, Domhnall Gleeson, Jovan Adepo, Amanda Chiu, Patricia Summersett and Eric Davis.

Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky; produced by Scott Franklin and Ari Handel.

A Paramount Pictures release. 121 minutes. Rated R (disturbing violent content, some sexuality, nudity and language). At AMC Champaign 13, AMC Danville Village Mall 6 and Savoy 16 IMAX.

Also new in theathers

"Columbus" a quiet meditation on life (★★★ out of four). There’s a surprising sense of confidence in director Kogonada's "Columbus," a quiet, meditative film that deals with two people who are stuck at different crossroads in their respective lives. Set in Columbus, Ind., where the designs of many significant architects have been built, the director is very conscious of showcasing these works in conjunction with these characters, emphasizing how these buildings impact their lives in obvious and subtle ways.

Far smarter than her peers and possessing a charming sense of wit, Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) didn’t leave Columbus as most of her friends did after high school, instead staying behind to take care of her mother (Michelle Forbes), a former addict who is trying to get her life back on track. Working at a university library, she seeks avenues for advancement but is blocked due to her lack of education, though her co-worker Gabe (Rory Culkin) does his best to distract her with his mild flirtations.

Meanwhile, Korean translator Jin (John Cho) has reluctantly come to Columbus as his father, an architect, has suffered a stroke while visiting the town. The two men have been estranged from one another for quite some time, and the son wonders why he has made this trek or why he should stay.

Kogonada succeeds in bringing the two principals together in a logical manner, avoiding an overly cute encounter, grounding the film in a sense of realism he maintains throughout. Through various cigarette breaks, aimless drives and revelatory conversations, Casey and Lin come to realize that their relationships with their parents are all too similar as is their feeling of being stuck in a situation not of their own making.

Kogonada makes sure that various architectural marvels in Columbus are in the shots when these conversations are occurring, often dwarfing the characters, exerting a power over them they often fail to notice or understand.

At one point, Jin mentions that his father claimed buildings and the way they are designed can provide a sense of calm and healing to those exposed to them. The director emphasizes this again and again, and if the film has a fault, it's that he stresses this far too often and too obviously. Whereas some of the buildings in question utilize a "less is more" approach, Kogonada ignores this maxim, almost to the film's detriment.

Obviously, the success of the movie rests on the shoulders of the two leads, and they are more than up to the task. Cho delivers a quiet turn, his moments of introspection genuine and well thought out. He avoids large, obvious gesture in scenes where others would have opted for a big moment. The result is a mature performance that grounds the movie and allows his co-star to shine.

Richardson, who previously impressed in supporting roles in "The Bronze" and "Edge of Seventeen" finally gets a chance to be in the spotlight and takes full advantage of it. Her sad smile will break your heart as the turmoil her character is feeling simmers just beneath the brave face she puts on.

The actress expertly portrays the feelings of guilt and frustration that shackle Casey, her conflict internal but given voice by her longing looks and the flashes of enthusiasm she shows when speaking about architecture.

The pace Kogonada uses in telling this tale is deliberate and at times far too languid, and while it is used so that we might be contemplative, much as the characters are about their environment, it requires patience.

Still, there's no question this is a rewarding film, one that dares to take its time so that we might drink in all it has to say regarding how differing perspectives and environment can weigh us down or set us free.

For DVR alerts, film recommendations and movie news, follow Koplinski on ­Twitter (@ckoplinski). He can be reached via email at chuckkoplinski@gmail.com.

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