Darren Aronofsky’s mysterious Mother!—starring his girlfriend Jennifer Lawrence, who apparently dislocated a rib from acting so hard in it—has finally been revealed at the Venice Film Festival, and critics are equal parts impressed and disturbed. The psychological thriller/haunted house horror follows an unnamed woman (Lawrence) and her tortured artist of a husband (Javier Bardem) as they are visited upon by strange guests in their creepy, isolated mansion.
Comparisons are being made to Rosemary’s Baby, as well as to Aronofsky’s previous works, Requiem for a Dream, Noah, and Black Swan, as well as to Repulsion, Straw Dogs, Antichrist, The Skeleton Key, The Yellow Wallpaper, Gaslight, Evil Dead, and Saving Private Ryan (plus at least four references to the artist Hieronymus Bosch). Confused? You’ll probably be more confused after you see it.
Everyone agrees that the actors are spectacular, particularly J-Law.
There’s certainly no faulting the actors, who, with the exception of the excellent and always audience-engaging Lawrence, all trigger a significant measure of creepiness. Bardem is dominant and, when necessary, warm and winning enough to just about convince you that Him’s wife would stick around despite all the warning signs. Harris and Pfeiffer up the ante with very keen turns as the couple that show up with no intention of leaving.
Stephanie Zacharek, Time:
The main reason to keep watching is Lawrence, receptive and radiant. If you were to tote up the lines of dialogue she gets, you wouldn’t find many, and most are of the “What are you doing?” and “Get out of here!” variety. But her face, almost celestial in its insistent hope, gets the job done. It’s as guileless as a piece of fruit still on the tree, yearning for the touch of the sun.
In any other actress’ hands, the role might be too frustratingly passive and timorous to relate to, but Lawrence is so wholly committed that it actually morphs into something far more unusual: a portrait of the trophy wife of a Great Man from the point of view of the trophy, and a deeply sympathetic first-person account of the terrors of being vastly younger and less socially confident than the person you love.
Though a few critics wonder if there is something autobiographical in it for her current boyfriend and director, Darren Aronofsky.
Travis Johnson, FILMINK:
Yes, Aronofsky has cast Lawrence, his real-life girlfriend as the wife of God—which is an incredible and strangely admirable act of hubris, when you think about it. It’s a short leap to consider Bardem’s god-figure as a stand in for Aronofsky himself, obsessed with the act of creation, hopelessly susceptible to flattery and fawning, and more than a little dismissive of his husbandly duties. How could he not be?
You might say that it’s Aronofsky’s (confessional?) vision of what it’s like being married to a famous egocentric artist.
Writer-director Darren Aronofsky wants to have his commercial cake and chomp down on some vexing personal issues, too.
Guy Lodge, Vanity Fair:
There’s … an acrid streak of romantic regret that might, if you squint just right, make this The Fountain’s most unlikely bookend. That film was his valentine to then-partner Rachel Weisz. This one? I wouldn’t dare speculate, but my lurid side would give a barrowful of pennies for Weisz’s thoughts.
Aronofsky’s film is ultimately concerned with the parasitic nature of the male artist; how he drains the lifeblood from all those around him in the name of creativity and ego fuel. In that sense, it’s a remarkably self-absorbed film, and one that, allegorical or not, feels like an agonized mea culpa from the artist (Aronofsky) to those in his personal orbit.
The film is, by all accounts, absolutely nuts.
Robbie Collin, The Telegraph:
In his oblique director’s statement, Aronofsky references war, famine, climate change and the ongoing refugee crisis—but in a way that frames them less as inspirations than the raw materials in a kind of apocalyptic chemistry experiment. Combine the lot, shake furiously, stand well back, and Mother! comes seething out, like toxic froth.
The film’s demented final stretch is a madhouse bacchanal, a circus-like inferno which seems welcomed by Him and simply horrifies mother. This quasi-hallucinatory, disco inferno-ish climax is multilayered and ambiguous enough to accommodate multiple interpretations; it’s a mother’s worst nightmare, a vision of the contemporary world coming apart while the oblivious masses treat it as the ultimate party, a view of primitive hedonism trumping educated civilization, the destructive mob prevailing over the constructive individual, all perhaps an intuitive sign of the times as envisioned by Aronofsky.
Travis Johnson, Filmink:
Aronofsky’s latest is nothing less than an allegorical retelling of all the better bits of the Old and New Testaments. And not the familiar, watered down King James version, but the crazy, apocrypha-riddled proto-Judaic stuff.
The only way to warn you without spoiling is to say that foolhardy is the soul who believes that, having witnessed what you’ve just witnessed, the film cannot possibly get any more insane. It can always get more insane, and it always does.
Not to mention terrifying.
Brian Formo, Collider:
The first portion is very Ingmar Bergman-like, a suffocating chamber play with simpler dream machinations and a frightening world of unease.
This is a film designed to fuck with you. And fuck with you it does.
In terms of cinematic structure and discipline, it makes Black Swan look like an episode of Murder, She Wrote.
There have been more than a few WTFs.
Marlow Stern’s headline for The Daily Beast:
“Jennifer Lawrence Goes Insane in the Most WTF Movie of the Year.”
Brian Formo's for Collider:
“Resting WTF Face”
If the only thing we wanted, or expected, a horror film to do was to get a rise out of you — to make your eyes widen and your jaw drop, to leave you in breathless chortling spasms of WTF disbelief—then Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! would have to be reckoned some sort of masterpiece.
But is there anything beneath all the craziness?
As Owen Gleiberman continues for Variety:
As it is, the movie, which stars Jennifer Lawrence as a woman who slips down a rabbit hole of paranoid could-this-be-happening? reality (she flushes a beating heart down the toilet; blood in the shape of a vagina melts through the floorboards; and oh, the wackjobs who keep showing up!), is far from a masterpiece. It’s more like a dazzlingly skillful machine of virtual reality designed to get nothing but a rise out of you. It’s a baroque nightmare that’s about nothing but itself.
Stephanie Zacharek, Time:
Even though the movie’s effects are elaborate and expensive-looking—the house itself becomes a character, a prison folding in itself, or a mansion exploding like a grim flower—the picture leaves us with nothing, or very little, to hang onto. It tries so desperately to be crazy and disturbing that all we can see is the effort made and the money spent.
And remember, if you’re going to put uncessary punctuation in your title, critics are going to comment on its meaning.
The world’s most ironic exclamation point.
Seldom has a title ever earned its exclamation point in more emphatic fashion. In fact it deserves a few more, so here they are: !!!!!!!!!
There was a time, not terribly long ago, when the exclamation point stood as a symbol of zest, of positivity. It was Andre 3000 chanting the chorus to “Hey Ya!” or Meryl Streep frolicking through the cobblestone streets of Mamma Mia!
That was then. Today it serves to accent the 140-character ravings of the U.S. president; a most violent cock’s crow. In mother!, the latest film from director Darren Aronofsky, it comes laced with similar portent, and as the title credits roll, separates from its subject before both vanish into the ether. Are you scared yet?
Robbie Collin, The Telegraph:
A sick joke, an urgent warning and a roar into the abyss, Mother! earns its exclamation mark three times over and more.
Stephanie Zacharek, TIME:
No wonder there’s an exclamation mark in its title. Aronofsky just doesn’t know when to quit.