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A little ambiguity would help 'Mother!'

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MAMA MIA Jennifer Lawrence’s tranquil life is upended in Darren Aronofsky’s - disconcerting  psychological horror film.
  • MAMA MIA Jennifer Lawrence’s tranquil life is upended in Darren Aronofsky’sdisconcerting psychological horror film.

Scene after scene in Mother!, we peer into Jennifer Lawrence's eyeballs in tight closeup, as if we were ophthalmologists. Lawrence has been accused of overacting before, but with the camera this close, it's director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) whose imprisons her.

Every bad thing that happens in this psychological horror film—rather, everything that's probably going to turn out bad—follows with a cut to Lawrence so she can react to it. We know exactly how she feels at every moment. Some ambiguity would have spiced this Kafka fable that does a backflip into religious allegory.

It's a Repulsion–style study of the walls closing in. Mother (Lawrence) is rebuilding a rambling farm house. Her husband, twice her age, is called "Him" (Javier Bardem), a poet walled in by serious writer's block. (This tactic of stripping the characters of the names isn't necessarily pretentious; it often occurred in silent films.) One evening, a guest calls, unknown to Mother but slightly known by Him. The man (Ed Harris) is a boorish orthopedic surgeon, a smirking bastard who smokes in the house, even after he's been requested to stop.

Him can't get enough of the pushy man of medicine and goes off hiking and talking with him. Later, the doctor's unnamed wife (Michelle Pfieffer) arrives and makes herself completely at home—Lawrence, a pillar of strength in most roles, looks helplessly miffed.

Emulating the midnight-movie look of his first movie, Pi, Aronofksy films in grainy Super-16mm blown up to full size. Some elements of the bizarre stick to the viewer—hallucinations of protoplasm, rot and blood, the sensual treatment of gobs of plaster in Mother's trowel, studied until they look like chocolate mousse on a desert trolley. But the ever tighter camera overexposes Lawrence's face. You're reduced to spending an hour or so counting the moles on her neck in this perplexing pyschodrama.

'Mother!' is playing in wide release in the North Bay.

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