A film that receives both boos and a standing ovation during its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, is a film that demands to be seen.
If you don’t know what to watch next, Darren Aronofsky’s mother! (2017) is available to stream on Hulu. Sixty-nine percent of the reviews aggregated on Rotten Tomatoes for the psychological horror film are positive, but audiences polled through CinemaScore graded it with an “F.”
Its opening weekend marked the worst debut for a Jennifer Lawrence vehicle in which she earned top billing.
A plot synopsis is not easy for a reviewer to put down in words. Suffice to say, the movie opens with an unnamed poet (Javier Bardem) and his wife (Lawrence) living in an idyllic country home evocative of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magical realism.
When a man (Ed Harris) and a woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) come to stay as guests at their house, this paradise begins to fall apart.
Although not a narratively straightforward picture, mother! is an exercise in production value.
The performances of its four decorated stars are dramatic tours-de-force, and Matthew Libatique’s kinetic cinematography externalizes the surreal panic characterizing Lawrence’s titular “mother.”
Whispering alongside them is Johann Johannsson and Craig Henighan’s atmospheric sound design, echoing with the breathy non-diegesis of Aronofsky’s own Black Swan (2010) like chills running down your spine, and creaking with all the dread of the poet’s house.
The trailer misrepresents mother! as an homage to Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968), which arguably answers for much of the popular disappointment in the final product.
Indeed, the text can be interpreted as an allegory for Biblical creation, or the artistic process, or sociopolitical and environmental decay (or all three.. or something else).
It is an experimental release marketed as a mainstream scary movie about creepy neighbors, and it fails to meet its own expectations.
But even in its true, arthouse context, mother! can be self-indulgent and pretentious. Some of its metaphors are heavy-handed, and others try too hard to be “ambiguous,” instead coming off as “half-baked.”
The filmmaker wrote the screenplay in five days, and it shows. At its stylized, dreamlike best, that’s a compliment. At its forced, incomprehensible worst, it’s not.
Whether it gets you to cheer or jeer, mother! is sure to be unlike any other film you’ll ever see.