VENICE, Italy – Darren Aronofsky’s horror thriller “Mother!” divided the Venice Film Festival press corps Tuesday, eliciting both cheers and boos for its tale of the creepy, explosive dynamic between the title character, played by Jennifer Lawrence, and her poet husband, called Him, played by Javier Bardem.
The film marks a novelty for the edgy U.S. director, who is a Lido aficionado. His “The Wrestler” won the 2008 Golden Lion; “Black Swan” also premiered in Venice, as did “The Fountain.” And Aronofsky headed the festival’s main jury in 2011.
“It was a a strange experience. Most of my films take many, many years to come to life. ‘Black Swan’ was 10 years, ‘Noah’ was 20 years, and this film happened in five days,” he said.
“It came out of living on this planet and sort of seeing what’s happening around us and not being able to do anything,” Aronofsky added. “I just had a lot of rage and anger, and I wanted to channel it into one emotion, into one feeling. In five days I wrote the first version of the script….It just sort of poured out of me.”
Aronofsky then showed it to Jennifer Lawrence, who he said “was really excited about that idea. And suddenly we were making a movie.”
Aronofsky noted that “the entire purpose of ‘Mother!’ is that it’s a mystery; it’s constantly surprising the audience. You don’t know where it’s going to go. We didn’t want to make the audience feel safe, because Jennifer’s character in the movie never feels safe. Jennifer’s character is constantly trying to figure out what’s happening to her….
“It was always about bringing the audience into ‘Mother’s’ point of view, because I wanted the audience to experience ‘Mother’ and her take on this invasion that was happening to her, because that was the point of the movie.”
The film was greatly inspired by Louis Bunuel’s surreal drama “The Exterminating Angel,” about a group of high-society friends who find themselves unable to leave a mansion where they had gathered for dinner. Another important source for “Mother!” is 1970s feminist literature cornerstone “Woman and Nature” by Susan Griffin, Aronofsky said.
Lawrence said that her central role in the pic “was a completely different character from anything I’d done before….It was also a completely different side of myself that I wasn’t in touch with, and I didn’t really know yet….It was the most I’ve ever had to pull out of myself.”
Bardem, who plays her self-centered celebrity husband, joked that “basically I’m very narcissistic myself, and that’s why he [Aronofsky] called me.” Bardem said there were many readings of the movie, one being that “it’s about the relation between a creator and his creation – call it a piece of writing or a house or the Earth itself.”
Michelle Pfeiffer, who plays the intrusive wife of a horrific fan of Bardem’s character, said she saw her character “actually as Jennifer’s guardian angel.”
“She shows up and awakens her in a way,” Pfeiffer said. “She immediately senses that there is trouble in paradise. I think she is trying to help her.”
That’s open to interpretation. What’s sure is that, throughout this highly original chiller, Lawrence’s ‘mother’ character could certainly use some help.