Film Review: Jennifer Lawrence in ‘mother!’

Mother! Clip Jennifer Lawerence
Screenshot

Darren Aronofsky's head-trip horror movie, starring Jennifer Lawrence as a woman who slips down a rabbit hole of paranoia, is dazzling on the surface, but what lies beneath? Maybe nothing.

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. 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.

Yet for an increasingly large swath of the moviegoing audience, that may be enough. “mother!” is often entertaining in a knowingly over-the-top, look-ma-no-hands! way. To ask for a film like this one to be more than it is — to ask for it to connect to experience in a meaningful way — may, at this point, seem quaint and old-fashioned and irrelevant. Considering the number of cruddy recycled horror movies made by hacks that score at the box office, the film is almost destined to be a success, maybe even a “sensation,” because Aronofsky is no hack — he’s a dark wizard of the cinematic arts. Yet his two greatest films, “Requiem for a Dream” (2000) and “The Wrestler” (2008), are both steeped in the human dimension, whereas “mother!” is a piece of ersatz humanity. 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.

In the remote green countryside, Lawrence plays the young second wife of a middle-aged celebrity author of feel-good poetry, played by Javier Bardem. (The characters are identified in the credits only as “mother” and “him.”) She’s renovating the couple’s exquisitely tasteful and spacious rustic Victorian mansion. The place sits in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but grass and trees and wind, like a wooden octagonal country castle: no road, no driveway, no cell-phone service. It’s a house with great bones, as they say, but the place was burned in a fire, which destroyed everything Bardem had, including his first wife. In the ashes, he found a burnished crystal, which gave him the faith to go on (it’s mounted in his study), and Lawrence wants to feel the faith too. She isn’t just fixing up a house; she’s restoring their lives.

That, however, is going to be a challenge, since Bardem, who has been a blocked writer ever since the fire, skulks around with knitted brows and a bitter scowl, treating Lawrence less as someone he loves than as the ball-and-chain he’s already sick of. The oddest thing about “mother!” is that it pretends to be a “psychological drama,” but the Tensions Simmering Below The Surface are all on the surface. Aronofsky, who wrote as well as directed the film, seems to be drawing characters and situations out of a ham-handed tradition of overly blatant B-movie horror. But can intentional obviousness be an artful style? There’s no subtext to “mother!” — just the film’s hyper-synthetic, flattened-out pop reality.

Early on, there’s a mysterious knock on the door. It’s a skeevy and deranged-looking Ed Harris, who has somehow found his way to the house, late at night, and acts oddly aggressive and familiar (to Bardem: “Your wife? I thought it was your daughter!”). The even stranger thing is that within minutes, he and Bardem are sitting around like old drinking buddies, as if they were in the middle of a conspiracy. When Bardem invites him to stay over, Lawrence quite understandably says, “He’s a stranger. We’re not going to let him sleep in our house.” That Bardem treats a stranger like family and his wife like crap doesn’t really make sense, but the film asks us to accept that we’re in the “Twilight Zone” version of a “Green Acres” universe, where everything Lawrence thinks, says, and does is wrong, and she’s going to suffer for it, all because…well, there is no because. All because that’s the movie’s sick-joke rules.

“mother!” is a nightmare played as a hallucination played as a theater-of-the-absurd video game that seems to descend, level by level, to more and more extreme depths of depraved intensity. You could say that Aronofsky is drawing on “The Shining” (the isolated setting and Bardem’s stony resentment) and also on “Rosemary’s Baby,” the greatest of all paranoid horror films. If so, however, he heads right for that film’s in-your-face, party-with-the-devil final scene (“Hail Satan!”), which director Roman Polanski took an entire two-hour movie to work up to. That movie was a bad-dream vision of pregnancy in which Rosemary paid the price for her trust and naïveté. But what, exactly, is the sin Lawrence is paying for?

The way “mother!” portrays it, she’s an addict of countrified good taste who’s too obsessed with her Martha Stewart home-restoration project. But seriously, this is a crime? The role, as written, is so thin that Lawrence, long hair parted down the middle, has to infuse it with her personality just to create a semblance of a character. She makes this victim-heroine a warm, eager, reasonable sweetheart who is full of feeling (and wants to have a baby herself), but watches her life turn into a funhouse of torment.

She does take a mysterious golden elixir, which may have head-altering properties. (But then she stops taking it, and the madness escalates anyway.) The fact that she imbibes any substance at all may link the film, in Aronofsky’s mind, to the Ellen Burstyn section of “Requiem for a Dream,” in which the director imagined addiction to amphetamines as a hallucination from hell. But that outrageous and memorable episode expressed something deep and true: that this is what drugs could do to your brain.

In “mother!,” the filmmaker basically just keeps coming up with bigger and better ways to punish his heroine. Harris’s wife comes over, and she’s a noodgy drunk played, with blaring ferocity, by Michelle Pfeiffer. A little later, we meet the couple’s adult sons (played by Brian and Domhnall Gleeson), who are at loggerheads, and everything that’s happened so far begins to look like child’s play. We’re now more or less rolling with it, taking refuge in Aronofsky’s puckish skill at staging the delirium, even as his relentless use of hand-held close-ups grows claustrophobic.

There’s an abstract audacity to “mother!” The film’s horror plays off everything from the grabby hordes of celebrity culture to the fear of Nazis and terrorists to — yes — what it means to be a mother (complete with the world’s most ironic exclamation point). All of that makes the film seem ambitious. But it also makes it a movie that’s about everything and nothing. You might say that it’s Aronofsky’s (confessional?) vision of what it’s like being married to a famous egocentric artist. But you could also say that “mother!” is so intent on putting an undeserving woman through the terrors of the damned that there’s a residue of misogyny to its design. Toss in a twist ending worthy of M. Night Shamyalan (a good or bad thing? Maybe both), and you’ve got a head-trip horror movie with something for everyone — except, perhaps, for those who want to emerge feeling more haunted than assaulted.

Film Review: Jennifer Lawrence in 'mother!'

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competition), September 5, 2017. Running time: 120 MIN.

Production

A Paramount Pictures release of a Paramount Pictures, Protazoa Pictures production. Producers: Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin, Ari Handel. Executive producers: Mark Heyman, Jeff G. Waxman.

Crew

Director, screenplay: Darren Aronofsky. Camera (color, widescreen): Matthew Libatique. Editor: Andrew Weisblum.

With

Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson, Stephen McHattie, Kristen Wiig.

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  1. Mel G says:

    The reviewer and many of the commenters here completely missed the mark. Bardem is not the devil, he is God. The movie had many biblical references. The husband was God ‘the creator’ and the wife was mother Earth. The people were humankind destroying her home. God, ‘the writer’ – imagined into existence the man “adam” who first came to the door, and then along came “eve” – then their two son’s ‘Cane and Abel” – one who killed the other. Then when their family came and destroyed the house, “the great flood” – after which mother earth had to go clean up after that first ‘apocalypse’ – the people were worshipping the man’s writing, quoting his ‘scripture’ and idolizing him, fighting over him and his possessions, all while destroying mother earth’s home. The baby who was killed was, who else? God ‘the ‘Father’s’ creation, Jesus. Why do you think he tried to convince his wife ‘to forgive them’. Mother Earth is angered and destroys everything by lashing out with earthquakes and fire, and then it all starts over again. The message being to all Bible Thumpers: “Better be nice to mother Earth, and mind your manners in her home! You are, after all, just a visitor here.”

  2. Jo says:

    Indeed. A horrifyingly misogynistic film by an over-rated writer/ director who has obviously allowed the patriarchal Hollywood system of opportunities go to his head. Really tired of the same misogynist lens projecting these stories and mainstream movies into the world for their own ego-led pleasure. Something has to change. FAST.

    This film is an insult to ‘mother earth’, who I’m sure wouldn’t be consistently revealing her nipples through white t-shirts. Lost – from start to finish. Surprised this movie actually got released in 2017.

  3. oleppedersen says:

    Just watched this, thought halfway through that it could be a good movie if the director managed to finish it well. Suffice to say, not quite. Instead it descends quickly into an insult to the viewer’s intelligence and a string og completely illogical and non-coherent scenes (I don’t mean it should stay on the path of realism at all times, but there is just no filmatic sense, in my view, to the latter part of the movie).

  4. gabriel21 says:

    Mother! Full Movie Streaming Online in HD 720p Video Quality
    ==> https://t.co/AJZWOHn8IX 22:48

  5. DOC says:

    Saw this “movie” when it opened on last Friday night. 2 hours of my life I will never get back!! If you have not seen this movie, GOOD!! Unless you need to waste 2 hours on a pointless mish mash of violence and babble with no rhyme or reason, do not waste your time or money!!

    They should be ashamed of themselves for wasting all the time and money it took to make this and even more ashamed to take money from working people to see it!!

  6. Kristen says:

    Everyone should google and read the interview Jennifer Lawrence did where she explains the exact parallels of the movie with the bible.. she is Mother Earth, Bardem is God… it makes (a little bit of) sense if you re-evaluate after reading her comments.

  7. Janet says:

    I think this movie is awful. I think it will be one of the worst. Very disappointing. Almost gave me thoughts of how the rich world thinks. They don’t care about Anyone but themselves. They would give it all away for the limelight. Weird.

  8. David T Collins says:

    Just saw this movie and thought I wasted 2 hours of my life. That said, the movie brings up several great points. First, “How safe are you in your home?” I’m sure those in war zones thought they were
    and the destruction of the house is pretty thought provoking. The religious undertones and the way
    Him and mother! interact is telling as well. TWwhIteN

  9. HIram Walker says:

    This is the same doofus director who just did Noah a couple of years ago. Why a doofus? As a pretty good movie, he then ruined it by suggesting that The Ark had a stowaway on it with a whole new spin on that flood/voyage. It didn’t make me angry, I just thought that was a stupid addition. Just like Scorcese’s “POTC was a stupid supposition, for me. Aronofsky and Hollywood calculate controversy to gamble it will make money. Sometimes it works.

    Now, he’s offering to the same to the people who reject God and the bible, but do believe in the presence of mother earth and mother nature.

    I didn’t go to the theater to see Noah. The Fountain sucked. I did buy The Wrestler after renting it, because it is a very good movie. Aronofsky has been a good director. But I definitely won’t see ‘mother! (Anyone have any facts about why the lower case, the apostrophe and the exclamation point?) at the theater. I think I get its point and wouldn’t enjoy sitting in the theater suffering through what I see is a smarmy movie, for sure. This director wants you to see it’s Rosemary’s Baby-ish, but then all this discussion on the Internet reveals how it is more perceived as some kind of genius allegory. I’ve seen RB and I’m sure it was shocking in the 60’s, but revisiting that tired theme is not.

    With these psuedo-religious undertones, I think that Aronofsky is in a rut. Though I am positive he calculated this movie’s plot to stir up controversy and generate dollars, while speaking to the masses who like poking fun at the Bible, some viewers fixated, some just giddy.

    Jennifer Lawrence is not a great actress. Silver Linings literally put me to sleep. I see she will be back to peddling her boobs and body in Red Sparrow, another La Femme Nikita re-tread.. Her nude selfies and her nipple suit in X-Men give me far more enjoyment than her actual on-screen acting. And how come no outrage that they should be X-”People”, not -Men? Just wondering. . .

  10. Jon Walker says:

    I’ve never seen a reviewer miss the point of a movie so badly that I think you have to be mentally impaired. I didn’t like the movie but to not understand to this extent what the movie is about, you have to be on drugs or supremely stupid. Please find another job.

  11. Subjectsieve says:

    The film effectively makes you feel like a victim of narcissistic chauvinism. I can’t say I’m surprised so many men detest it.

  12. Ahi Tuna says:

    Saw this last night, the “pure crap” reviewer is correct. Movie did manage to unite the folks in the theater at the end when folks laughed and were like wtf did we just watch? This small moment of community continued into the parking lot and most agreed this was a complete waste of time and was one of the stupidest, nonsensical movies most had seen.

  13. lorin says:

    This movie is crap and not hard to understand. The husband is “God’, the wife is “mother Earth’ and the rest are “Man’

    It is not original and far too long. It is exhausting and becomes boring to watch.

  14. Owl face says:

    No one should consider this a reasonable review. The film is a metaphor and this review simply shows no sign of picking up the messages. Excellent film and great acting.

  15. Ray Guinn says:

    What a waste of money and time! Sure the critics will love it but most movie goers will find the movie disturbing with a perverted, subliminal message mocking religion.

  16. Kim A Kirk says:

    “Blood in the shape of a vagina”? What shape exactly is that??

  17. Ro Bu says:

    Variety’s reviewer is shallow as he is unimaginative. Obviously oblivious to brilliant symbolisms and creativity. He should write obits.

  18. scoop says:

    It was strange but entertaining

  19. Obama Sucks says:

    Pure shit movie.

  20. Kinoeye says:

    The fact that you have a really glaring typo (the character is “Him,” not “him”) shows that you didn’t really take the time to think about what you saw.

  21. JK says:

    It is stunning that a critic that has been around this long thinks this film has no subtext. Either he’s taking the piss, or he didn’t actually watch the film. Were you on your phone during it, a la the new generation?

  22. Another movie that tries to hard to clever. Its completely sexists. She is 20 something married to a guy who could be her old father. It’s just gross. There are better ways to send the message that God always gives us second chances and we are killing Mother Earth.

  23. lakawak says:

    Takes a real genius to RESCHEDULE a movie release ahead a month to debut a week after It. This movie is going to bomb worse than Jenifer Lawrence’s last several non-franchise movies.

  24. scotfourowls says:

    Mother! — an experience of film cruelty when I saw it tonight — is like being bludgeoned by the blunt force of a male’s narcissistic pretension to be ‘creative’ and adored by cult followers while casually abusing and sucking the life out of the supportive, caring female who props the “him” up by creating order, sustenance and beauty at the home front. This film is a rehash of an ugly, old, bigoted story. We ought to be done with it. Nothing fresh or new — only Oscar-caliber acting in what’s basically horror porn.

    While Lawrence is the best thing in this awful film, her talent’s wasted. The story line of this appalling film is allegorical, philosophical, theological in its hodgepodge of archetypal themes centered on violent, deceitful male destruction against Lawrence’s embodied female arch-image (with a derisive female token torturer piling on to gaslight Lawrence in aid to Bardem through Michelle Pfeiffer’s role). The themes are not clever, only art-house pretense layered on as if to justify the abusive sexualized horror unleashed against iconic female Lawrence for male self-satisfaction.

    Gives me the shivers that a young Oscar-winner so talented, beautiful and accomplished in her field as Lawrence would think making this film with the skewed, cruel vision of Aronofsky makes sense. Surely audiences based on word of mouth will stay away from this film; I wish I could unsee and unhear it. But is the director’s film thematically autobiographical? If so, put the man out to pasture, producers of the world, and let filmmakers with heart and soul and fresh vision move into the space he’s filled horribly with Mother!.

  25. Jenifer says:

    Watch Mother! Full Movie Streaming ===> http://bit.ly/2ws4DqL

  26. Alex says:

    I think this reviewer didn’t understand the film. When I saw it today at TIFF a poem was handed out (on pretty fancy card stock) as we entered. Without saying anything to spoil it for you, here is the poem. I have to assume the filmmaker and the studio must want it read prior to viewing.

    mother’s prayer

    Our mother who art underfoot,
    hallowed be thy names,
    thy seasons come, thy will be done,
    within us as around us,
    thank you for our daily bread, our water, our air,
    and our lives and so much beauty;
    lead us not into selfish craving and the destructions
    that are the hungers of the glutted,
    but deliver us from wanton consumption
    of thy vast but finite bounty,
    for thine is the only sphere of life we know,
    and the power and the glory, forever and ever,
    amen

    Adapted by Rebecca solnit

  27. wawonas says:

    have watched the trailer for signs of life. appreciate this review tries to tackle the problem of “mother!” but dismayed Gleiberman can’t simply critique a director’s getting spellbound by his own technique. this is the new problem for Hollywood with all its money, power, prestige, and lack of insouciant inspiration. too big to fail, but fail it does because it’s too big. i feel sorry for audiences who get excited about these empty shells. sure, it’s an allegory, and the characters don’t even have names, so it can mean anything. when you watch “Them!” you know it’s about mutant ants and that’s deeply comforting.

  28. teresainpa says:

    I would go see Jennifer Lawrence in anything. I am looking forward this and I am not sure why a horror movie has to have a deeper meaning. Black Swan was so great I am really looking forward to this.

  29. Tim O'Rawe says:

    So she promotes the movie by alienating half the box office with her insane “Trump voters deserve the hurricanes” comment. Brilliant. I’m sure the producers appreciate that. Why should “Deplorables” pay money to see this if she thinks they deserve death and destruction? If the movie doesn’t do well, producers might want to put a “shut the hell up” clause in her contracts.

  30. Renato says:

    The title is confusing. What does nothing lies beneath it? It is a pool or the sky? For every negative sentence you should write an argument and you don´t. I don´t see any reasons to believe in your text. The writer of the review should go to the movie with his Mother. If you haven´t learnt the signficance of a Mother in your Childhood and Adulthood, a Mother lost or found, than a book, a Dictionary, won´t tell you what that is. Open your eyes a little more and see who the best actress is. Her.

  31. A Movie Fan says:

    This is perhaps the most wrong-headed review I have ever read. I’m sorry but I don’t think Mr Glieberman understood the movie, and its ambitions even one tiny iota. One of the comments below points us in the right direction, though doesn’t capture the whole of what Darren Aronofsky is exploiting here, but I don’t want to give any spoilers.

    Suffice to say, Mr Aronofsky tells a truly massive scale tale. A huge allegory, set in one confined house. It may not pull off the effect completely all the time, but full marks for trying, and creating something so wildly, energetically different. I loved this movie; others will loathe it. But this type of film-making pushes boundaries and should be applauded.

  32. aeg66 says:

    Finally….an honest review. Thank you, thank you. thank you.

  33. J-Dubb says:

    Black Swan is his best movie hands down.

  34. Kevin Tran says:

    Can’t wait to go see Mother! when it comes out on September 15th. Movie is very scary and Jennifer Lawrence’s performance should get another Oscar nomination.

    • She won’t. There’s a reason this film was pushed back from October to September, the dumping ground of flop Oscar hopefuls who always get snubbed in the end. She has no chance of another nomination this year. At best, it might make a play for tech categories. But the film itself will be too divisive and the performances, from this and other reviews plus the vibes from the trailer, too sparse to make a Top 5 cut. Especially considering this year is an AMAZING year for lead actress, J-Law will fall by the wayside.

      • Michael says:

        Don’t bet on it. I’ve NEVER been a fan of Lawrence but having seen it, I doubt we’ll see a more committed performance on the screen this year. While the movie flails wildly, her work is astounding.

  35. Gleiberman keeps using the word “paranoid” when referring to the fear in the movie Mother!, implying that her fear was all her imagination. Based on what I saw in the trailers, let’s just say there is something to be concerned about, she is not paranoid.

  36. Sam says:

    Every time I see this preview at the movie theater, the more I refuse to see it. It looks boring and confusing.

  37. Frederick Louis Richardson says:

    Without funding on the front end and distribution on the back end, a film is simply a home movie. A motion picture that has both–and a near-zero budget in the middle–has an honest chance at something special, merely because it relies upon not only skill of the filmmaker but imagination, invention and creativity. Something out of nothing is magic: To do so much with so little for so long….

    The problem with most flops is the irony of too much money.

  38. Well, there are many more layers to this movie than the reviewer suggests. Lawrence’s character as well as the house she lives in can stand for many concepts and things. The most obvious one would be earth itself. Once you read the movie that way the plot and action as well as the characters start to make a whole lot of more sense.

  39. clearwaterrose says:

    Jlaw and Javier are such acting powerhouses, I was expecting them to knock it out of the park under Darren Aronofsky.Too bad its not a masterpiece. She needs to start reading the scripts before signing on to them just because the director is her favourite.

  40. freeman07 says:

    I loved the review but i’m going to watch the shit out of it to experience it. Jennifer lawrence , she is incredibly talented and i love her authentic portrayals and Javier Bardem is pure evil and delight to watch.

  41. Danish says:

    “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.”

    That’s a very good description of the Aronovsky School of Filmmaking.
    It’s all flash, but little content to justify that flash.

    “Requiem for a Dream” is probably one of the most overrated films ever.
    Everything about it is just flash & shock value, with a total disregard for the realities
    of addiction. And it’s so conservative in its message (‘don’t do drugs, boy!’) that even
    your Grandma will love it.

    Ironically, Aronovsky’s only good films are his smallest, made-on-a-cheap, low-budget features “Pi”, “Black Swan” and “The Wrestler”. Because there he couldn’t buy too much flash and had to think more about content, performances and realism.

    When I saw the trailer for “Mother!” featuring obvious references to “Night of the Living Dead”, “Evil Dead” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, it showed the worst side of Aronovsky again: The film school student, who wants to impress and out-cite all the other fan-boys at film school. It’s postmodern pastiche 101.
    It’s too obvious.

    Will this be another flashy Aronovsky crap fest like “Noah” and “The Fountain” ?
    God help us.

  42. Ari Manuel says:

    The nitwit Lawrence and her equally moronic Aronofsky are two POS Hollywoode’rs who bore us
    all to death.

  43. Execute Trump for treason says:

    It sort of looked good in the previews despite Jlaw… she is annoying.

  44. Ellie says:

    The incredibly talented JL is rapidly moving from my most liked, must-see list to my least liked, won’t watch list.

    Know my opinion, if she even knew it, wouldn’t matter in the least to her, and the movie will likely be a hit.

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