There's good reason you know next to nothing about mother!, the secretive new indie flick starring Jennifer Lawrence and directed by her boyfriend Darren Aronofsky, the demented genius behind Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream.
On its face, mother! details the undoing of a marriage—between a beautiful young woman who has rebuilt her older husband's burned-down house and a fame-hungry poet who welcomes increasingly disruptive and violent fans into their home, much to the horror of his fragile wife.
But if you knew what was really about to unfold in its last minutes, you wouldn't just opt out of seeing it...you'd protest opening night with fire bombs and demand Paramount Pictures pull this monstrosity from distribution.
mother! is a merciless bit of provocation. It is a compelling work of conceptual art—a biblical allegory of creation and destruction cleverly told through the microcosm of a home—but is vile and even sadistic in its delivery.
Aronofsky packs images of genocide, violence against women, police brutality and the immigration debate into a visceral climax that may land even casual viewers in therapy for life. Consider the title's stylized exclamation point a bold-faced trigger warning.
It's ultimately up to you to decide whether you're willing to stomach the horror onscreen to grasp the parable at its fiery core. There are some moments of levity to help you make it through, mostly thanks to one fiendishly seductive visitor played by Michelle Pfeiffer (her best work in years, in case you were wondering).
Whether you find it brilliant or bombastic, mother! will definitely get people talking... in a fury.
Here, six reasons this movie is going to offend the hell out of everyone.
1. It's way more disturbing than a typical horror movie
You have to give Paramount Pictures a hand (or maybe even a hard backhand slap across the face). Never before has a Hollywood studio so effectively duped its audience about what it is about to see. But you can't blame them; how else were they going to sell this thing?
mother! is a preposterous film; it's a heady psychological thriller, a dark comedy, a mean-spirited indictment of modern civilization and a heavy-handed religious allegory all wrapped in one nasty, nonsensical package. Anyone who expected the straightforward home-invasion thriller teased in the trailer is gonna be pissed.
2. It's religiously provocative
The religious allegory of the film is manifest in the two nameless married leads—Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and Him (Javier Bardem). Lawrence's sensitive character embodies Mother Nature while Bardem's narcissistic poet patently represents God, or perhaps a false God (depending on your interpretation).
He drains Mother of her life force, wringing her dry for inspiration and then discarding her once he's amassed fame from his creations. He's obsessed with his followers and forgives them even as they begin to flood his home and brutalize Mother Earth. The Church will be none too pleased with the film, to say the least.
3. Jennifer Lawrence plays her most pathetic character yet
Throughout her remarkably prolific career, Jennifer Lawrence has uniformly played strong and self-assured women. Her work in mother! is sublime, but it is shocking her character is so meek. She exists entirely to serve the needs of her husband and crumbles into a paranoid, fidgeting mess whenever he rebuffs her advances or when a stranger fucks up her kitchen.
Then, there's the torturous third act, where Lawrence was subjected to so much physical and emotional abuse, the actress actually tore her diaphragm while filming. Her agony is indicative of men's mistreatment of women and, in turn, nature, but many will nonetheless decry mother! as misogynistic torture porn. In a negative review, Vulture wrote, "[Lawrence is] a tough, funny, and smart actress. I'd hate to think of her as just another doll for a director to torture."
4. The violence is seriously over the top
It is impossible to disclose where mother! goes without spoiling the experience, but it's not pretty territory. At a New York press screening, critics actually began to giggle in disbelief at the escalating violence that takes place in the couple's home. The politically-charged imagery shocks, but one brutal sequence in particular—the one Lawrence likely tore her diaphragm filming—pushes way, way too far. Even J. Law thinks so. It is certainly key to delivering the caustic allegory of the film, but your heart would be cold if you aren't deeply offended by it.
5. There's a politically-charged immigration plotline
The home Lawrence and Bardem inhabit is a serene mansion built in a blissful bucolic setting. It's Eden, essentially, or at least it's trying to be. At the start of the film, Mother proclaims, "We spend all our time here; I want to make it paradise." If you read the allegory of mother! as a political one, the home could represent the United States and its grand vision of a pure and abundant society.
When Bardem opens the flood gates, letting in waves of guests of different nationalities and languages, they bring with them violence and pandemonium, and their Eden is spoiled. Bardem's foolhardy announcement before the destruction sets in—"All I'm doing is trying to bring life into this house: open the door to new people, new ideas."—suggests a cynical view of multiculturalism.
6. Kristen Wiig's crazy cameo
During the calamitous final act, there is one surprise cameo that managed to elicit laughter from an otherwise white-knuckle audience—the sudden appearance of former Saturday Night Live star Kristen Wiig. Playing one of Bardem's starstruck admirers, Wiig is a PR girl from hell. Her appearance isn't so much meant to bring levity to the scene (which it sort of does); she's there to completely throw you off and remind you, "Yes, this movie is deliberately fucking with your head."
mother! hits select theaters on Friday, September 15. Be afraid.