“mother!” is Darren Aronofsky’s most extreme film yet

Among his peers, filmmaker Darren Aronofsky is as ambitious and distinctive as there is. Not only does he manage to craft movies unlike any other, he often is able to do it within the studio system as well. In the case of his newest work, the secretive project mother!, he’s made something that you’d never expect Hollywood to finance. Without question, mother! is batshit crazy, a fever dream of the highest order. It also just might be brilliant. Aronofsky has unleashed a demon from the deepest recesses of his mind. I have no clue how folks will respond to this one. For me, it’s among the boldest and best things I’ve seen in 2017 so far. Opening on Friday, it’s going to blow some minds.

Plot doesn’t do this film justice. In fact, the less you know, the better. The plot description officially is that “A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.” That both is accurate and also suggests something completely different than we get. No one has names here, but credited as Mother (Jennifer Lawrence), the wife is slowly fixing up their secluded home, while poet spouse Him (Javier Bardem) deals with writer’s block. Then, one night a knock at the door brings Man (Ed Harris) into their world. Hot on his heels is Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), but that’s not all. Again, I don’t want to say what happens. Just…brace yourself. Aronofsky writes and directs, while the supporting cast features small turns by the likes of Jovan Adepo, Brian Gleeson, Domhnall Gleeson, Stephen McHattie, and Kristen Wiig. The cinematography is by longtime Aronofsky cohort Matthew Libatique, and it’s something to behold.

Without question, mother! is absolutely insane. The first third is a paranoid thriller of sorts, with mounting dread. The middle portion sees the worries come to fruition in unexpected ways. The final third, however, goes in a direction unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s almost indescribable. Aronofsky has made a nightmare. Whether it’s about the cost of creativity on those who surround the creator, a religious allegory, a cry out against the darkness of the world, or all of the above, is up for debate. It’s positively riveting though. Equal parts disturbing and darkly humorous, it’s completely unique. Aronofsky and his longtime DP Libatique again work together beautifully, while Lawrence gives herself over to his vision fully. She’s magnificent. Without someone of her skill level, it would have been harder for Aronofsky to pull this off. Luckily, they make a truly compelling team.

Speaking of Lawrence, here’s what I consider to be her ten best performances so far:

10. X-Men: First Class
9. The Hunger Games
8. X-Men: Days of Future Past
7. Joy
6. Like Crazy
5. American Hustle
4. The Beaver
3. mother!
2. Winter’s Bone
1. Silver Linings Playbook

Here now is how I would rank Aronofsky’s films to date:

7. Noah
6. Pi
5. Black Swawn
4. mother!
3. Requiem for a Dream
2. The Wrestler
1. The Fountain

Awards wise, mother! will probably struggle to gain Oscar’s attention. Paramount could make things happen with a concerted effort perhaps, but it won’t be easy. Still, an across the board campaign should be launched, especially in regards to Best Picture, Best Director (for Aronofsky), Best Actress (for Lawrence), Best Supporting Actress (for Pfeiffer), Best Original Screenplay (also for Aronofsky), Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing. There’s also Best Actor (for Bardem), Best Supporting Actor (for Harris), Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing, but those might be tougher plays. A shut out could easily happen, but watch out for Lawrence in Actress and/or Pfeiffer in Supporting Actress.

Starting tomorrow, audiences will finally see mother! for themselves. Personally, it’s one of the year’s best right now, but admittedly, it won’t be for everyone. Traditional horror fans might not know what to make of it, while more art house type patrons might find the genre trappings a bit off from their comfort level. I urge you to give it a shot though. It’s a true conversation piece and perhaps even an effort of mad brilliance. It’s opening in wide release (a strange yet bold decision), so you’ll have a crowd to debate it with afterwards. Give yourself over to Aronofsky and witness the madness for yourself…

Be sure to check out mother!, in theaters everywhere this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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