“And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.”–Revelations 11:18
FEATURING: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, , Ed Harris, Brian Gleeson,
PLOT: A writer and his wife live alone, rebuilding a house where the man used to live before it burned down. One day, a stranger shows up at their door and the husband invites him to stay, against the woman’s wishes. More uninvited guests arrive, first the family of the original man, and then hordes of the writer’s adoring fans, sowing complete chaos in the home just as the woman gives birth.
- Darren Aronofsky says he wrote the first draft in “a fever dream” in just five days.
- Per Aronofsky, 66 of the film’s 115 minutes are closeups of Jennifer Lawrence.
- 20th Century Fox passed on distributing the film due to a controversial scene.
- The movie received a rare “F” rating on CinemaScore (which measures audience reactions). Fewer than 20 movies have ever received such a low score.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: We won’t mention the scene that makes the most impact for fear of spoiling your reaction. (You’ll know it when you see it). That leaves us looking for a second place image to fill this space; we’ll go with the vagina-shaped wound that develops out of a bloodstain on the house’s hardwood floor.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Urine-Seltzer; toilet heart; crowd-surfing baby
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Writer/director Aronofsky lets this movie go all to hell—mother! is his most irrational and difficult film, and also his most provocative, with one scene in particular that sent ’em packing to the exits. It’s a Hollywood offering with an outsider’s beashness, transgressing society’s norms—mostly by blaspheming against coherent realist narrative, the biggest taboo of all. Outraged moviegoers who came to see megastar Jennifer Lawrence’s horror film got a puzzling, punishing allegory instead. mother! was an all-too-rare “event movie” in the weird genre.
Original trailer for mother!
COMMENTS: The first act, with uninvited house guests arriving in ever-increasing numbers, plays like a ian joke. The bloody, taboo-shattering climax could have been ripped from Lars von Trier‘s playbook. The middle flirts with claustrophobia and paranoia. Yet, mother! develops its own hysterical identity—half absurd comedy and half existential horror, half nightmare and half lecture—that could only have come from the mind of Darren Aronofsky. Unlike the controlled mayhem of his previous Certified Weird films Pi and Black Swan, which doled out their weirdnesses in small doses measured to provide maximum shock without disrupting the story structure, Aronofsky lets his muse run mad and naked here for two full hours.
Married to a celebrity poet, young second wife Jennifer Lawrence is content refurbishing the couple’s house in the middle of nowhere. Instead, she finds herself dealing with a flood of unwanted guests who treat her home like a free bed and breakfast. Her husband, apparently grateful for the distraction from his writer’s block, encourages them to stay. Lawrence feels increasingly harassed and disrespected by the interlopers, and it doesn’t help her high-strung outlook that she’s chugging some sort of urine-colored alka selzer and hallucinating (?) hearts beating in the walls and organs in the clogging the toilet. At first, mother! plays like a black comedy, with the audience laughing each time the doorbell rings and a new guest arrives. This black humor contrasts with ongoing gynecological horror imagery: a vaginal bloodstain on her hardwood floor, with the blood trickles tracing a Fallopian diagram on the walls of Jennifer’s womblike basement. The dreamlike flow of the first hour escalates into the nightmarish once a pregnancy arrives at the same time her husband publishes a poetry sensation that brings a horde of cultlish fans to their remote homestead. Over-the-top apocalyptic chaos follows, with a wrap-up that left some audience members in the theater I saw it in scoffing out loud. Subtle and focused mother! ain’t; weird, it is.
mother! is susceptible to multiple interpretations, which may be a problem in a movie that appears to aspire to allegory rather than mystification. Aronofsky intends the audience to read the film as an environmental parable about Mother Earth, which is simple enough (if a bit disappointing in its obviousness). But mother! can also be seen as a metaphor for fear of procreation (the strangers who sew chaos in the house act just like unruly children), and there’s a prominent theological element. And, with its poet hero, it simultaneously plays as an allegory for the artist, and for the way the audience appropriates His work and gives it their own interpretation—yeah, there’s some heavy meta there. mother! works reasonably well on all those intellectual levels, without betraying its irrational frissons or sacrificing its transgressive gut-punches.
clever enough to go over many people’s heads, but not so obscure it would sneak by anyone with an English degree. That architecture is both the most and the least interesting thing about the movie. There is an undeniable thrill to recognizing the pattern the first time you catch it. On a second watch, the meaning of certain odd moments—Bardem grabbing Ed Harris’ side as he vomits into the toilet, or the significance of the couple who sit on the sink until it breaks from the wall and sprays the house with water—become clear. But, as Aronofsky himself has pointed out, this allegory is mostly there to provide structure rather than meaning. Taking it all at face value would invoke a theology that wouldn’t play at any seminary in the known world, and would probably raise eyebrows on most alien planets. Still, this symbolic element gives mother! a thicker texture, a heft that would be lost in a simpler, less wildly ambitious parable. Given the almost nonstop carnage embodied in the film’s intense final 45 minutes, when more and more people pour into the poor mother’s home and do unspeakable things, it was wise for Aronofsky to shoot for beyond the stars. Once the SWAT team breaks into the house and starts executing looters at random, we are far past the point of rational explanation, anyway.
In my initial review during the movie’s theatrical run, I wrote that “in its first week of release, the highly anticipated mother! has already been buried at the box office… Its birth was improbable, its life brief, and we may not see its like for many years.” But rumors of mother!‘s demise (which I helped spread) were premature. Perhaps due to its extremely low (by Hollywood standards) budget, mother! managed to turn a profit—but only after the foreign receipts rolled in. It ended up about 14 million in the black. These aren’t numbers which cause you to wipe away any studio executive drool, but nor do you have to sop up their tears. At least it proved that excessively weird movies aren’t guaranteed to lose money. Unfortunately, at the date of this writing, mother! hasn’t proven to be the hoped-for prestige piece, either, garnering only a few minor awards. Michelle Pfeiffer’s supporting actress chances, which showed a strong pulse in September, were already on life support in December. Although reviewers were far kinder than audiences, mother! is already infamous for its divisiveness. 2009’s Antichrist (which also refused to give its parent protagonists proper names) may have been the last movie to create a big a chasm between those championing a film as an audacious triumph and those dismissing it as pretentious twaddle. One thing is for sure: simply dropping a superstar like Lawrence into your surrealist movie won’t make mainstream audiences embrace its uncomfortable weirdness. But J-Law earns a lot of artistic credibility and respect from a role that was quite a bit riskier than
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Its dread has no resonance; it’s a hermetically sealed creep-out that turns into a fake-trippy experience. By all means, go to ‘mother!’ and enjoy its roller-coaster-of-weird exhibitionism. But be afraid, very afraid, only if you’re hoping to see a movie that’s as honestly disquieting as it is showy.”–Owen Gleiberman, Variety (contemporaneous)
“This movie is insane… the movie’s grasp of experience feels tenuous, trippy, and, dare one say, adolescent; if you gave an extremely bright fifteen-year-old a bag of unfamiliar herbs to smoke, and forty million dollars or so to play with, ‘Mother!’ would be the result.”–Anthony Lane, The New Yorker (contemporaneous)
watch mother! – Hosts the trailer, two short clips, and two behind-the-scenes peeks
IMDB LINK: Mother! (2017)
OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:
mother! – Paramount took the unusual step of making the screenplay publicly accessible
darren aronofsky here (director of mother!) ama – Aronofsky’s chat on reddit completely spoils the film (there are spoiler tags)
Darren Aronofsky Doesn’t Want You to Know Anything About Mother! – Spoiler free early interview, originally published in the New York Magazine
Darren Aronofsky’s ‘mother!’ Banished to Infamous F CinemaScore Club – Hollywood Reporter puts mother!‘s failing grade in context
Some ‘mother!’ Viewers Completely Perplexed, Angered by Film – Average moviegoers express their disdain for mother!
Darren Aronofsky says ‘mother!’ is supposed to ‘come at you – The director responds to audience criticism (some spoilers)
Darren Aronofsky Needs to Stop Explaining What Mother! Is About – Slate‘s Sam Adams (appropriately) takes Aronofsky to task for his defensive overexplanations of the movie
‘mother!’: Darren Aronofsky Breaks Down One of the Divisive Film’s Most Jarring Sequences — Watch – Behind-the-scenes video of the staging of a fight scene, courtesy of IndieWire
Inside the Dreamy Nightmare of Mother!’s Music-Free Soundscape – Composer Jóhann Jóhannsson explains why he’s fine with Aronofsky not using the score he wrote for the film
LIST CANDIDATE: MOTHER (2017) – This site’s original review of the theatrical release
DVD INFO: Paramount released mother! on a standalone DVD (buy) with no special features (other than trailers for other movies), saving the extras for the Blu-ray/DVD/digital combo pack (buy). Those extras include thirty-minute making of featurette (aptly titled “the downward spiral”) and a separate six-minute interview with makeup artist Adrien Morot. Digital codes are included for UltraViolet and iTunes. The film is also available (with special features) in a 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray/digital combo pack (no DVD) (buy).
mother! can also be found digitally for rental or purchase (buy or rent).