Or, Department of Heavy-Handed Mixed Metaphors.
Watching this trainwreck of a movie, I could not help but think of Rosemary’s Baby, from which it borrows many ideas, liberally and clumsily. Here too we have an egotistical creative husband (Javier Bardem, trying his heroic best not to be as absurd as his character). He’s married to a blonde sweetheart of a woman, Jennifer Lawrence, in one of the most egregious feats of miscasting mankind has ever known.
As John Cassavetes before him (physically, Bardem and Lawrence are Cassavetes and Mia Farrow on steroids), Bardem is completely self-involved and oblivious to his wife’s emotional needs. She is building their nest, a hexagonal house in the middle of a field. There is no driveway. Nosy people appear, in the welcome shape of Ed Harris, and the spectacularly brittle Michelle Pfeiffer, just like Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer before them. All kinds of strange shenanigans start taking place. Here too a fear/desire of pregnancy emerges, as well as the notion, which in Roman Polanski’s gifted hands is a masterpiece of dark humor and dread, that hell is other people. Unfortunately, all resemblance to Polanski’s movie stops there, because to say that writer-director Darren Aronofsky is heavy-handed is understating the issue. Apparently, he has never met a metaphor he didn’t like, so the salad of symbolism dooms the movie to camp: the house as a living organism, the sacrifice of the homemaker, fear of pregnancy, male impotence, the destructiveness of ego and celebrity, Cain and Abel, you name it. You confirm you were in trouble when the characters are listed in the end credits as “Mother”, “Him”, “Man” and “Woman”. This movie deserves the Mystery Science 3000 treatment.
Everything is shot by Matthew Libatique to resemble a dreamlike state, and I’d be fine with this if, as in any truly creepy psychological horror film, such as Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant, and Repulsion, or Jack Clayton’s The Innocents, the disquiet came from our not knowing whether the horror is all in the character’s mind. But Aronofsky stacks the deck early on and dispenses with ambiguity. One look at Ed Harris and one knows nothing good can come from him, whereas the Castevet neighbors in Rosemary’s Baby really make you wonder whether they mean well or they are direct emissaries of Satan. All the fun and the fear lie in not knowing for sure.
Aronofsky wants to tell an allegory, but it seems to me that, at least in film, allegory is most effective when it is rooted in reality…