Mother! (2017)

  • Time: 121 min
  • Genre: Drama | Horror | Mystery
  • Director: Darren Aronofsky
  • Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Harris


A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.


  • In the character posters for Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, an angelic Jennifer Lawrence holds her heart in her hands and Javier Bardem is in flames. As images in and of themselves, they are provocative, intriguing and utterly enigmatic. Their meaning becomes clearer – and the posters ingenious considering how much they actually reveal – once one views Aronofsky’s insane psychological horror film.

    The premise couldn’t be simpler – a man and a woman, both unnamed, married to one another, living in a house situated in the remote countryside. He (Bardem) is well-known author whose creative wellspring has currently run dry; she (Lawrence) is his younger wife in the midst of renovating their home, his home, which once burned to the ground and destroyed everything he had, including his first wife (presumably the woman whose burning face opens the film). Their life appears tranquil, a close enough approximation to the paradise that she wants to create, though one doesn’t have to look too hard to see some cracks – his writer’s block is a source of frustration, she is clearly more besotted with him than he is with her, which is not to say that he does not love her, but merely that such imbalance is almost always a dangerous thing in any relationship.

    Even in its relatively serene first half, there’s already a creeping sense of dread. It’s there in the way she feels the heartbeat of the house. It’s there in the sound of her bare feet creaking the floorboards as she wanders through the house searching for him, eyes darting, breath catching at sounds that flirt and tease. As with Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, of which mother! is a direct descendant, Aronofsky primes audiences to instinctively to expect something to surface, so that one’s neck is craned, eager to discover exactly what is around that corner or in that room or in that recess. Now that Aronofsky has skipped stones and disturbed the audience’s equilibrium, the descent into madness begins in earnest with Ed Harris’ Man knocking on their door, soon to be followed by his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), and then their combative sons (real-life brothers Domhnall and Brian Gleeson).

    Without giving anything away, suffice it to say that these strangers’ presences are only the prelude to the siege that Lawrence’s Mother will experience. Her husband is more than happy to welcome these unexpected guests as they may serve as inspiration for his writing. Mother, on the other hand, doesn’t understand why her husband is ignoring her obvious discomfort and why her guests, particularly the Man’s wife, not only disregards her but is passive-aggressively dissecting her marriage. By the time mother! reaches its conclusion, blood will have been shed, hearts crushed, limbs torn apart, flesh eaten, and Lawrence will have been wrung through every wringer Aronofsky has concocted.

    mother! can be read in a variety of ways. It’s a story in which man takes and takes and woman gives and gives. It’s Aronofsky’s retelling of the creation story, but also an observation of fame and celebrity. It’s a tale of how humankind’s nature is to destroy, but also how destruction can give way to rebuilding and how that can be a never-ending cycle. It’s a biblical allegory, fever dream, high art, and pure hokum all at the same time and it is a film that will either be feted or reviled; apathy is impossible with mother! It’s not necessarily that Aronofsky does anything he hasn’t done before, but what he has done is taken his previous work and pushed them to the extremities of their extremities. Dense with primal anxieties and suppurating with leprous intensity, the film harks back to the type of burrowing hysteria that characterised Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, Repulsion and The Tenant as well as Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that Aronofsky is in full control of this delirium tremens of a film. The progression from the comparatively placid first half to the berserk caterwauling cacophony of its second half is nothing short of masterful.

    It’s no doubt that Lawrence carries the film, and much of the interest lies not only in witnessing her character slowly but surely pummeled to her breaking point, but in observing Lawrence the actress respond to Aronofsky’s direction. Lawrence is an instinctive actress and one who molds her own genuine persona to a role rather than disappear into a character. Is her performance revelatory? Not quite, but it does continue to prove that she is an actress of skill and depth and that there are levels yet to be unearthed.

    Better than anyone is Pfeiffer, whose presence is so ferocious and magnetic that one becomes convinced that cinema has been a wasteland in her absence.

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  • (RATING: ☆☆ out of 5)

    GRADE: C-


    IN BRIEF: A familiar horror genre formula that is given a high class treatment, even if the bizarre script makes no logical sense whatever.  

    SYNOPSIS: A psychological thriller in which a couple deals with strange goings-on.

    RUNNING TIME: 2 hrs., 1 min.

    Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is a film that comes with no capital letter, an exclamation point to inform moviegoers that there will be much emotional tension, and a whole lot of surreal Biblical images with which to contend. Too derivative of Rosemary’s Baby to be called original. the film does follow that formula of a damsel-in-distress horror movie with dark psychological tones. It does showcase some fine acting, strong production values, and intense visuals, but it is real miss, as movies go…and a mess too.

    While the film has been called thought-provoking and disturbing by some critics, the only thought it provoked from me was, “How can this film make any sense to anyone unless it’s a really a dream / nightmare? The characters’ behaviors are so bizarre, the time frame confusing, violent actions have no repercussions, and the outrageous plot leaps, no,…vaults over, any logical sense of reality.” No, I won’t divulge the actual answer to that question, if you indeed make it to the end of this overwrought exercise in absurdity, but instead I will add another thought, “Did anyone involved in this movie stop and say to the director that his screenplay is laughable rather than scary and so over-the-top it strains credibility? Couldn’t anyone just say no to a dumb script in need of several rewrites ?”

    An opening scene provides a short prologue that makes one wonder about the film’s meandering plot almost immediately. We meet our soon-to-be victim and soon-to-be mother (Jennifer Lawrence), hence the title. Nothing seems right from the outset. Everyone around her is automatically suspicious or seems to have ulterior motives, including her poet husband, unnamed in the script. He is played with (possible) customary menace by Javier Bardem. The duo seem the oddest of couples right from the start: she, being his supportive obedient muse, and he, the tortured artist type. They buy a secluded country home far away from neighbors (always the first mistake in this genre), although it seems that everyone materializes out of nowhere and is stopping by this depot on a regular basis: First a stranger/ literary fan (Ed Harris) visits and is conveniently invited to stay the night, followed by his shrewish wife (a scene stealing Michelle Pfeiffer). Next comes their two gonzo sons (substitute Cain and Abel, played by Domhnall and Brian Gleeson), and then an array of hundreds of others drop-in. (I’m not exaggerating, trust me.)

    mother! is a psychological horror genre film seen as ART, all in capitals. The film mixes nightmarish suspense, due to the director’s strong vision. Even if the story is very lightweight and a tad pretentious, the overall result is still visually effective. (You know that you are suppose to be experiencing “high art” when the characters are named Him, Her, Man Woman.) But the film cannot camouflage its base origins as a typical horror film all gussied up to create those bumps in the night (which never happen) and wallow in its shock appeal (which is often).

    mother! slowly builds on its psychological tension to its bizarre and surreal Grand Guignol conclusion. The first act of the film focuses on the main character’s possible motives and odd behavior while the second act becomes a frenzied rush of violence and gore to appease the horror crowd. Moviegoers, overly familiar with these scare tactics, will have a been-there-done-that vibe. It’s a real mishmash, but an artful journey into madness. Mr. Aronofsky sets up his action and intensifies his subject with overt religious symbolism and gruesome images that may shock and offend his audience. His hellish hallucinations, of which there are many, resonate, even if his own screenplay lacks imagination and cohesion.

    The cast play out their roles with much energy and passion. Jennifer Lawrence is excellent and plays her everywoman with much verve. Mr. Bardem gives his one-dimensional role some needed depth. Mr. Harris and especially Ms. Pfeiffer round out the ensemble with solid turns.

    Yet the film’s underlying theme, that fame and obsession can corrupt one’s soul, takes a backseat to the non-existent scares and chills. As written in Mr. Aronofsky’s jumbled script, Mr. Bardem’s poet character remains an enigma throughout and his actions may show a vain and unloving husband or a confused helpless artist allowing his ambition to run amok. Ms. Lawrence’s title character is part doormat / part romantic. We know opposite can attract but we never feel that there is any connection with the couple. Their give-and-take moments lead to a completely laughable (rather than horrifying) and unsatisfying conclusion.

    mother! is far from great cinema. Yes, it is a skillfully well-crafted horror film, even if the script is all over the place. It remains a major disappointment from a talented director. The film’s title may end in that dubious exclamation point, but perhaps a question mark might be a more fitting punctuation.

    NOTE: The poster truly captures the grotesqueness of the film and its in-your-face shock value very well. The false sense of beauty and innocence is set off balance with the bloody surreal image of that bleeding heart and the blood-soaked virginal white dress. Superb use of contrast and style. Actually, the poster is better the film. Watch that instead!

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  • The exclamation mark reads several ways. Of course it’s a celebration — of the maternal, the feminine, an exultation.
    It also makes the title a call for help, a summons/prayer to the Eternal Feminine to restore our lost humanity.
    It’s our rededication to Mother Earth, which The Woman here rebuilds as her husband’s house, a cold dark stuffy — masculine — mansion feminized by the bleeding vaginal wound on the floor and the uterine tunnel discovered under the basement. The man moves through the rooms unawares — it’s his empire so he ignores it. The woman feels its pulse, shares an organic connection to it, sees life-forms flushed down aborted or throbbing in the material walls.
    When both women from their bed initially call their absent lover with “Baby?” the romantic and submissive briefly supplant the woman’s fertility and power, her creative as well as mythic force.
    It’s also a reassertion of the dominance of the feminine character, as in the two leads’ exchange over the newborn baby. His “I am his father” is trumped by her “I am his mother.” But she loses when he exploits her momentary loss of consciousness. His vanity and hunger for power proves catastrophic.
    However else it’s read, this film is about the clash of the male and female creative principles. It claims the impropriety and destructiveness of the male’s advantage. The man exults in the woman’s pregnancy until he swells with arrogance and vanity from the eruption of his new poem and its extraordinary public reception. His vanity destroys their world, as his egotism destroys each successive muse, each lover, when he plucks from her gut her crystalline love.
    The madness of the mob is a contemporary image of the destructiveness that results from serving the male authority, whether in politics, art or mythology, from serving the macho strut over the nurturing maternal. Xavier Bardem is perfectly cast as a macho poet of both literary and sexual impotence. His resurgence into power makes his strength an even greater weakness that costs him his world.
    Of course there are other themes, like the biblical history. Ot opens with the first visitors, an echo of he Jewish Edenic beginning. The central couple proceeds to a Catholic pseudo-Jesus birth and communion. These echoes of dominant faiths conclude in the nihilistic anarchic end. Horror movies are always a kind of religious experience, summoning the fear of the supernatural if not our supportive faith in it.
    It’s also about the nature, power and dangerous temptations of art. The artist here is a poet because that’s the oldest of the arts, its timelessness validating this poet’s unlikely rock star — and even saviour’s — reception. Patti Smith provides the perfect poetic coda with The End of the World, combining the personal with the global.
    This film is arguably unique because it makes no effort to be about people so much as about the universalized human condition. That makes it an allegory more than a story of psychological realism.
    Nobody has a name here. The end credits identify the mother, the man, the woman, the first two sons, and so on down through the supporting cast: the whisperer, the defiler, the zealot, etc. Bardem is set apart as Him, capitalized as if The god or the creative force in more secular terms, e.g., art.
    He is also the film’s primary subject of anatomy. It opens and closes on the woman (du jour), his new muse, beloved, who will rebuild his world, offer him the chance to have a son, and finally be sacrificed and replaced because he can’t suffer or allow her superior power. That’s the male world Aronofsky here challenges more cosmically than in Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, Black Swan and Noah. Suddenly this is a very impressive canon.
    Now Darren Aronosky is a major auteur!

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