“I hesitate to label it the “Worst movie of the year” when “Worst movie of the century” fits it even better” this is how the New York Observer reviewer, Rex Reed, has spoken about Mother!, the new controversial movie of Darren Aronofsky. Although the overall reviews have not been as harsh as Reed’s (a score of 68% on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 74/100 on Metacritic), it is undeniable that both the audience and the journalists were completely divided in this regard.
From the boos in the press room at the 74th Venice Film Festival, where the movie was participating in a official competition, and the epochal F on CinemaScore, we get to the enthusiastic four stars on platforms like IndieWire and Screen International, and to the positive review of Francesco Alò, in the Italian field.
For sure almost everyone can agree on the courage that Paramount showed in promoting such movie, especially considering how it promoted the movie. The promotional campaign started in May and it was directed step by step by Aronofsky himself. It all started with a tweet from the film director on the American mother’s day (touché). The tweet shared the first image of the movie: Jennifer Lawrence was portrayed as mother nature holding a bleeding heart in her hands. Disturbing, but thrilling. Then, towards the end of July, only two months prior to the debut in movie theatres , the first teaser was released. Soon after was also released the official trailer which quickly hit 8 million views. A strong hype grew around the movie: the trailer presented a distressing psychological thriller by showing a Jennifer Lawrence in the middle of a hysterical crisis, a violated house and intruders – so cool! Not to mention the promotional poster, which echoed Rosemary’s Baby by Polanski and which transmitted certain meanings and atmospheres. While all of this was going on, Aronosfky refused to issue any declaration. Usually journalists and professionals of the field watch the movie around a month prior to its debut; however at this point only very few people had already watched the movie, and those who did had to sign a secrecy agreement before watching it. Everything was kept in this big and enigmatic cloud of mystery.
So what the hell is Mother about? Why does it have such divided reviews?
Altogether, the movie is a big allegory, which was mainly inspired by the biblical tale, that branches off to other metaphors and multiple subtexts. Jennifer Lawrence is the mother, mother nature, the creator of the house. Javier Bardem, her husband, is also a creator. However he is a creator who is having difficulties, since he is lacking inspiration and he is stuck in the creative process. The house, which is the creation, is invaded by a man and a woman, Adam and Eve (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer); then it is invaded by their children, who represent Cain and Abel. The situation degenerates, converting into a literal hell on earth: a raw staging of all of the most obscure and disturbing human experiences.
“Mother! begins as a chamber story about a marriage. At the center is a woman who is asked to give and give and give until she can give nothing more. Eventually, the chamber story can’t contain the pressure boiling inside.” says Aronofsky.
Jennifer Lawrence is not only the protagonist, she is the emotional and aesthetical anchor of the entire movie. With 66 minutes of screen time out of 121, the movie literally moves with her, it follows each one of her movements: “I wanted the audience to be in the head of the character throughout the entire movie and to live her experience” says the director. In the past, Matthew Libatique, the director of Aranofsky’s photography, had already stated that the subjectivity in his movies had been growing since The Wrestler, but with Mother! it became extreme: the camera is physically attached to the character during the entire time. In fact, the shooting language can be resumed into three framing categories: objective, the character is shown by herself; semi subjective, which connect the character with the surrounding space; and subjective which only show the character’s point of view. The connection with the house is not only intellectual, but also brazenly physical, a connection of reciprocal belonging and identity: the protagonist, in fact, always walks barefoot around the house, she leans on the walls while walking down the stairs, she repeatedly breaks objects on the floor, and she obstinately tries to keep everything in order.
The reflection on the human becomes universal and converts into a reflection on life and Earth: “
It is a mad time to be alive. As the world population nears 8 billion we face issues too serious to fathom: ecosystems collapse as we witness extinction at an unprecedented rate; migrant crises disrupt governments; a seemingly schizophrenic US helps broker a landmark climate treaty and months later withdraws; ancient tribal disputes and beliefs continue to drive war and division; the largest iceberg ever recorded breaks off an Antarctic ice shelf and drifts out to sea. At the same time we face issues too ridiculous to comprehend: in South America tourists twice kill rare baby dolphins that washed ashore, suffocating them in a frenzy of selfies; politics resembles sporting events; people still starve to death while others can order any meat they desire. As a species our footprint is perilously unsustainable yet we live in a state of denial about the outlook for our planet and our place on it. From this primordial soup of angst and helplessness, I woke up one morning and this movie poured out of me like a fever dream”.
On the opening weekend the movie only cashed $7.5 million. We can say that the result was not the best, considering it was screened in more than 2400 movie theatres and that its budget was $30 million. Also, it was the worst national debut for a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence. About the F on CinemaScore, IndieWire came in the movie’s defense, by publishing many articles about it. One of this articles reflected on the fact that this reaction was a direct cause of deluded expectations, and this goes back to the discourse about the marketing campaign.
CinemaScore does not measure the innate quality of a movie, but its appeal with the audience: surely, a movie that has been so cryptic since the beginning of the promotion, couldn’t do anything but leave everyone astonished. Probably because it is hard to condense the true meaning of this movie in a 2-minute trailer. The movies that are not liked by the audience usually receive a C on the grading scale, but if they don’t level up to the expectations they are given an F: this is why Mother! divided the audience so drastically; this movie was booed at the Venice Film Festival but at the same time it was praised by the critic; it was applauded by half of the audience at the movie theatre while the other half hated it or left the theatre half way through. Everyone was expecting a “normal” thriller, but what they got was a biblical allegory and a reflection on humanity. Or maybe someone didn’t expect anything. Or none of the above, and the movie was taken as it is, aware or not of the hype. Some appreciated it, and some didn’t. And Aranofsky is perfectly aware of this: “There are many ways to entertain, but come to watch my movie only if you are ready to do the roller coasters more than once. I don’t start with the idea of being different or provocative, but from something I feel, from which I begin to start visualizing.”
Translator Arianna Tilli