Release Date: September 15, 2017
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 121 minutes
In 2010, when Black Swan was released to enormous Oscar buzz and praise of Natalie Portman’s central performance, the major sentiment at play was shock. It probably shouldn’t have been, given Aronofsky’s propensity for the experimental and profane, but nevertheless the film gained a reputation. In the following years, as happens with every horror movie, the digital peanut gallery critiqued the film as either not scary enough or not edgy enough (or both).
In making mother!, it feels like Aronofsky is trying to show audiences that he can still bring the goods – that he can still surprise us; shock us; horrify us; and show us things we’ve never seen, things that we have never wanted to see. It indulges in all the film-bro genre conventions, all the pretentious noise that makes Aronofsky a hit-or-miss director to so many people, and somehow he pulls it back into a tragic and terrifying thriller that might be his best film yet.
None of the characters in this movie have names. Javier Bardem is a poet; Jennifer Lawrence is his inspiration; Kristen Wiig is his publisher; Ed Harris is the guest; Michelle Pfeiffer is the guest’s wife; Domhnall Gleeson and Brian Gleeson are their sons. The characters in this movie are more than types though; more so, they are feelings, emotions and stressors.
The whole story exists in Bardem and Lawrence’s house in the woods, specially designed, it seems, with a gorgeous spiral staircase going up the middle to allow for incredible circular cinematography. Complementing the visuals is the most interesting and distressing sound design in any movie since Interstellar. If the sounds of glass shattering makes you cringe, be warned.
At this point it’s important to say that one can’t talk about this movie more than I already have without getting into spoiler territory. So if the above sounds interesting to you, go see it. Otherwise, read on at your own risk.
Lawrence spends most of the movie in a) close-up and b) complete distress. People keep coming into her house, and she wants them to leave but they won’t. They do weird things and ask weird questions and go places she doesn’t want them to go. She tells her husband to make them leave, but he won’t. Every basic need and desire that Lawrence expresses goes unheeded as she continues to do the emotional labour for everyone who enters her house. As the film moves further and further into her psychosis, weirder and weirder things happen until you’re not thinking about the logic of what’s going on, only the feelings.
This is a movie you just feel your way through. It’s tense and unsettling. It will scare you but will also make you laugh. There are some moments that will literally take your breath away. It’s often too much to handle, but sometimes that’s just what you need.