Darren Aronofsky‘s mother! is about the madness, the mob, the awfulness, the vulgarity, the end, the abominations, Dr. Phil, the poison, the ego monsters and rampant obscenities and tables of half-drunk 20something girls wailing with laughter in bars…it’s about every unfortunate social horror of the 21st Century, manifested in an obviously allegorical form

This is definitely a Hollywood Elsewhere kind of horror film, or one that’s about much more than chills and shivers. Just as making people laugh is the lowest form of humor, simply trying to scare people is the lowest form of horror.

It doesn’t matter if you think the mother! effects are super-cool or run-of-the-mill. It doesn’t matter if the octagonal Victorian home that Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence are living in has a garage or a driveway. Because it’s not about the home or even the characters, but the world beyond and the realm within.

Anyone who sees mother! and concludes that Aronofsky is some kind of cold manipulator without a conscience or humanistic concerns…well, they’re not paying attention. His latest (which by my yardstick is easily one of his best, or certainly at par with Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream) is as valid and pungent a piece of social criticism as Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (which was about…what, the erosion of moral values and the waning influence of Christianity in the early to mid ’60s?) and Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel (the self-loathing and lack of values among the bourgeois elite).

mother! is about…well, social rot and corrosion and the neurotic hunger for fame, about marriage and trust and social apocalypse, and possibly even Aronofsky’s past failings or shortcomings as a husband…who knows? It’s certainly about the fact that marriage to an intense creative guy can have its occasional rough spots.

It’s definitely a movie for upscale, review-reading, smarthouse audiences. It’s not aimed at your typical horror crowd. It’s an art film that uses the trappings of horror to make its points. Somebody (Aronofsky?) said after the Venice Film Festival screening it’s an allegory about global pollution and climate change. Okay, that works, but it’s not what I saw. 

For me, mother! may be the single most profound explanation or dramatization of the saying that “hell is other people.” It was to be seen and wrestled with. Especially if you’re married or living together.

Somebody wrote that mother! is “an instant landmark of test-your-limits cinema.” That makes it sound like it has scenes that are genuinely hard to get through (i.e., too intense, gross, violent). But that’s not true. I was expecting something a lot bloodier and gorier, and it’s actually…well, not tame but it’s hardly over the top. Okay, the last act is fairly intense but Aronofsky is such an expert at bringing you along and sinking you into the swamp of his imaginings that you’re ready for the final delivery. (I’m just tapping away and thinking about it later.)

I’m not going to riff on the relationship between Bardem and Lawrence, except that they’re 25 years apart and there are all kinds of not-good undercurrents between them. Then along comes a cigarette-smoking doctor with an awful-sounding cough (Ed Harris) who wants to hang and shoot the shit with Bardem, and then Harris’s boozy, blunt-spoken wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up, and Bardem, who’s gripped by writer’s block, is totally down with these intruders because at least they’re an escape from the blank page.

And then Harris and Pfieffer’s full-grown, improbably red-haired sons show up (Brian and Domhnall Gleeson) and before you know it’s a cavalcade of every ugly, abrasive, repulsive social behavior under the sun, except it’s under their fucking roof. And then Lawrence gets pregnant, and then it all gets worse. Much worse.

Whaddaya listening to me for? See it, wade into it, let it in. I guarantee you’ll come away with at least three or four different interpretations.