Mother! (stylized as mother!) is a 2017 American psychological horror film written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, and starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer. The plot follows a young woman whose seemingly tranquil life with her husband at their country home is disrupted by the arrival of a mysterious couple.
Mother! was selected to compete for the Golden Lion at the 74th Venice International Film Festival, and premiered there on September 5, 2017. It was released in the United States on September 15, 2017, by Paramount Pictures, and has grossed $44.5 million worldwide. Although the film received generally positive reviews from critics, its biblical allegories and depiction of violence sparked controversy.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Darren Aronofsky|
|Written by||Darren Aronofsky|
|Edited by||Andrew Weisblum|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$44.5 million|
In a large house recently burned by fire, Him, an acclaimed poet struggling with writer's block, places a crystal object on a pedestal in his study. The ruined house morphs into a lovely home in an edenic landscape. In bed, Mother, the poet's wife and muse, awakens from a fiery nightmare and wonders aloud where Him is. While renovating the house, she starts seeing things that unsettle her, including visualizing a beating heart within its walls.
One day, Man turns up at the house, asking for a room. Him readily agrees, and Mother reluctantly follows suit. During his stay, Man suffers coughing fits and Mother observes an open wound in his side. Soon Man's wife, Woman, also arrives to stay. Mother is increasingly frustrated with her guests, but Him begs her to let them stay, telling Mother they are fans of his work and Man is dying. However, when Man and Woman accidentally shatter the crystal object, which Him had forbidden them to touch, Mother kicks them out and Him boards up his study.
Before Man and Woman can leave, their two sons arrive and fight over their father's will. The Oldest Son, who will be left with nothing, severely wounds his Younger Brother and flees. Him, Man, and Woman take the injured son for help. Alone in the house, Mother follows a trail of blood to find a tank of heating oil hidden behind the basement walls.
Upon returning, Him informs Mother the son has died. Dozens of people arrive at the house to honor the dead son. They behave in rude and presumptuous ways that irritate Mother; she snaps when they break a sink, flooding the house. She orders everyone out and berates Him for allowing so many people inside while ignoring her needs. Their argument ends in passionate lovemaking.
The next morning, Mother announces she is pregnant. The news elates Him and inspires him to finish his work. Mother prepares for the arrival of their child and reads Him's beautiful new poem. Upon publication, it immediately sells out every copy. In celebration, Mother prepares a big dinner, but a group of fans arrives at the house before they can eat. She asks Him to send them away, but he insists he has to be polite and will return soon. Mother tries to lock the doors, but more fans arrive and enter the house to use the toilet. They start stealing things as souvenirs and damaging the house, but Him is oblivious due to the adulation he is receiving. Hundreds of people fill the house and an increasingly disoriented Mother watches it devolve into chaos. Military forces battle a cult of frenzied fans who tear rooms apart and engage in religious rituals. Amidst gunfire and explosions, the Herald, the poet's publicist, organizes mass executions.
Mother goes into labor and finds Him. He takes her to his study, which he reopens so she can give birth there. The havoc outside subsides. Him tells Mother his fans want to see their newborn son; she refuses and holds her boy tightly. When she falls asleep, however, Him takes their child outside to the crowd, which passes the baby around wildly until he is killed. Devastated, Mother wades into the crowd where she sees people eating her son's mutilated corpse. Furious, she calls them murderers and stabs them with a shard of glass. They turn on her, viciously beating and stripping her until Him intervenes. He implores Mother to forgive them, but she escapes, makes her way to the basement oil tank, and punctures it with a pipe wrench. Despite her husband's pleas, she sets the oil alight; it explodes, destroying the crowd, the house, and the surrounding environment.
Mother and Him survive, but she is horrifically burned while Him is completely unscathed. He asks for her love and she agrees. He tears open her chest and removes her heart. As he crushes the heart with his hands, a new crystal object is revealed. He places it on its pedestal and, once again, the house is transformed from a burnt-out shell into a beautiful home. In bed, a new Mother appears and wakes up, wondering aloud where Him is.
Lawrence said that the film is an allegory: "It depicts the rape and torment of Mother Earth ... I represent Mother Earth; Javier, whose character is a poet, represents a form of God, a creator; Michelle Pfeiffer is an Eve to Ed Harris's Adam, there's Cain and Abel and the setting sometimes resembles the Garden of Eden."
Aronofsky said that the title's exclamation mark "reflects the spirit of the film" and corresponds to an "exclamation point" of the ending. The director discussed the film's unusual capitalisation in a Reddit AMA, saying, "To find out why there's a lowercase 'm', read the credits and look for the letter that isn't capitalised. Ask yourself what's another name for this character?" The characters' names are all shown in lowercase, except for Him.
The lighter which appears throughout the film bears the Wendehorn, a symbol believed to represent "the cooperation between nature's eternal laws, working in effect and in accordance with each other." One of the film's unexplained elements is the yellow powder Lawrence's character drinks, which The Daily Beast suggests is a reference to Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story "The Yellow Wallpaper".
After 2014's Noah, Aronofsky began working on a children's film. During that process, he came up with a new idea. He ended up writing the Mother! screenplay in five days, much faster than his usual pace. The film uses a dream-logic narrative, of which Aronofsky has noted, "if you try to unscrew it, it kind of falls apart," and that "it's a psychological freak-out. You shouldn't over-explain it."
Jennifer Lawrence was reportedly in talks to join the film by October 2015. By January 2016, Javier Bardem was also in talks to star, and by April Domhnall Gleeson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Harris, and Brian Gleeson were added to the cast. In March 2016, it was announced Kristen Wiig had been cast in the film.
Shooting for the film began on June 13, 2016, and concluded on August 28, 2016. Prior to the start of principal photography, the cast rehearsed for three months in a warehouse, during which time Aronofsky was able to "get a sense of movement and camera movement, and learn from that." During this time, Lawrence was relatively laid-back, and Aronofsky has said that as a result he "didn't get to know the character until we started shooting, and she showed up."
Mother! is the first Aronofsky film without composer Clint Mansell's involvement. The film originally had a score composed by Jóhann Jóhannsson, but after seeing the 90 minute score synced up with a rough cut of the film, Aronofsky and Jóhann agreed not to use the original score. They experimented with using the score at only a few moments, or instead using a new minimal score focused on sound-design that incorporated noises into the soundscape of the house. Ultimately, they went with the second choice, and Jóhann's work merged with the sound design of Craig Henighan. Jóhann's countryman and fellow composer Ólafur Arnalds recounted the following story about the decision:
…he had spent a year writing the score for Darren Aronofsky's "Mother" and at some point realised that the film was better with no music at all. He proceeded to convince Darren to delete everything. It takes a real, selfless artist to do that. To realise the piece is better without you.
The most important part of creating art is the process, and Jóhann seemed to understand process. The score needed to be written first in order to realise that it was redundant. So in my view, Mother still has a score by Jóhann. The score is just silence... deafening, genius silence.
The film had its world premiere at the 74th Venice International Film Festival, where it was selected to compete for the Golden Lion. The film premiered in London on 6 September 2017. It also screened at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.
On August 7, the first official trailer for the film was released.
Mother! grossed $17.8 million in the United States and Canada and $26.7 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $44.5 million, against a production budget of $30 million.
In North America, the film was released alongside American Assassin and was projected to gross $12–14 million from 2,368 theaters in its opening weekend. It made $700,000 from Thursday night previews and $3.1 million on its first day. It went on to open to just $7.5 million, finishing third at the box office and marking the worst debut for Lawrence in a film where she had top billing. Deadline.com attributed the film's underperformance to its controversial narrative, misleading advertisements, and "F" CinemaScore grade. Other publications wrote that the film's CinemaScore grade, which is extremely rare, is associated with "a movie that goes out of its way to artfully alienate or confuse audiences." In its second weekend, the film dropped 56.3% to $3.3 million, finishing sixth at the box office.
Citing the low receipts and CinemaScore, Aronofsky blamed moviegoers' rejection of science, saying, "You have other people who basically believe in the power of a iPhone that they can communicate to 35 million people in a blink of an eye, yet they don't believe in science in other ways." He also stated, "It's a punch. It's a total punch... We wanted to make a punk movie and come at you. And the reason I wanted to come is because I was very sad and I had a lot of anguish and I wanted to express it." A boycott was also called for against the movie after political comments from actress Jennifer Lawrence in an interview for the film.
Mother! received generally positive reviews from critics, who praised Aronofsky’s direction and the performances, particularly of Lawrence and Pfeiffer. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 69%, based on 301 reviews, and an average rating of 6.8/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "There's no denying that Mother! is the thought-provoking product of a singularly ambitious artistic vision, though it may be too unwieldy for mainstream tastes." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 75 out of 100, based on reviews from 51 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". The film received both boos and a standing ovation during its premiere at the Venice Film Festival. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "F" on an A+ to F scale, making it one of fewer than twenty films to receive the score, while comScore reported filmgoers gave a 51% overall positive and a 33% "definite recommend".
Owen Gleiberman of Variety, in his positive review of the film, wrote: "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." Gleiberman labelled Mother! as "a piece of ersatz humanity". Peter Travers of Rolling Stone awarded the film 3.5 out of 4 stars, describing the film and Aronofsky's direction as an "artist's cry from his own corrupt heart" and "a work of a visionary". He also praised the film's allegorical narrative and the performances of Lawrence, Bardem, and Pfeiffer, and said, positively, that the cinematography "always seems on the verge of exploding". Writing for the Chicago Tribune, Michael Phillips stated: "Darren Aronofsky delivers a damning critique of the artist/muse arrangement, even as he admits to its old-fashioned patriarchal simplicity." He also referred to the film and its script as "grandiose and narcissistic and, in quick strokes, pretty vicious," while drawing a similarity to Aronofsky's film, Black Swan.
Writing for The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw gave the film 5 stars, saying, "Darren Aronofsky’s toweringly outrageous film leaves no gob unsmacked. It is an event-movie detonation, a phantasmagorical horror and black-comic nightmare that jams the narcosis needle right into your abdomen." Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of The A.V. Club gave the film a B+, writing, "the filmmaking ranks as some of Aronofsky's most skillful". Ben Croll of IndieWire gave the film an A−, noting "Awash in both religious and contemporary political imagery, Darren Aronofsky's allusive film opens itself to a number of allegorical readings, but it also works as a straight-ahead head rush." In an essay for The Hollywood Reporter, Martin Scorsese said, "It was so tactile, so beautifully staged and acted — the subjective camera and the POV reverse angles, always in motion … the sound design, which comes at the viewer from around corners and leads you deeper and deeper into the nightmare … the unfolding of the story, which very gradually becomes more and more upsetting as the film goes forward. The horror, the dark comedy, the biblical elements, the cautionary fable — they're all there, but they're elements in the total experience, which engulfs the characters and the viewers along with them. Only a true, passionate filmmaker could have made this picture, which I'm still experiencing weeks after I saw it."
Rex Reed gave the film zero stars in The New York Observer, and wrote that despite some good cinematography, "Nothing about Mother! makes one lick of sense as Darren Aronofsky's corny vision of madness turns more hilarious than scary. With so much crap around to clog the drain, I hesitate to label it the 'Worst movie of the year' when 'Worst movie of the century' fits it even better." Reed further dismissed other critics' positive reviews of the film as "equally pretentious" and "even nuttier than the film itself. ... they all insist Mother! is a metaphor for something, although they are not quite sure what it is." Similarly, The New Republic’s Josephine Livingstone states that the film has “no human center to hold it down.” Anthony Lane in his New Yorker review wrote, “My patience was tested beyond repair, I am afraid, by the nimbus of nonsense.” In his Wall Street Journal review, John Anderson said, “it achieves a level of excess that makes the whole enterprise increasingly cartoonish, rather than just awful.” Chicago Sun-Times' Richard Roeper rated the film 2 out of 4 stars, writing that while he appreciated Lawrence's performance, he questioned whether Aronofsky was mocking certain biblical passages featured in the film or presenting a commentary on an artistic process. Writing for The Washington Post, Anne Hornaday gave the film 2 stars, saying, “Even Lawrence's magnetic powers can't keep "Mother!" from going off the rails, which at first occurs cumulatively, then in a mad rush during the film's outlandish climax.”
Stephen Whitty of the Newark Star Ledger wrote, “one part early Roman Polanski, one part pseudo Harold Pinter, and two parts apology-from-a-driven-artist. And none of it adds up. The feeble idea behind "Mother!" isn't strong enough to bear the weight of all the overwrought style he hangs on it. Unlike the mansion it's set in, it's a small, hammered-together thing, and it can't bear all this meaning and metaphor.” Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Nashawaty said, “Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! is Rosemary’s Baby amped up into a fugue state of self-indulgent solipsism. He’s an artist. And he really wants you to know that he’s been thinking a lot about what that means. Unfortunately, his gaze is so deep into his own navel that it’s just exasperating.” New York Magazine’s David Edelstein shrugged off the film and any talk of its craft, stating, “Most of the dialogue and effects are clunky, repetitive, second rate.”
The film's nominations at the 38th Golden Raspberry Awards received backlash from audiences and critics, especially Lawrence's nomination whose performance had received overwhelming praise from critics.
|Camerimage||Golden Frog||Matthew Libatique||Nominated|||
|CinEuphoria Awards||Top Ten of the Year – International Competition||Mother!||Won|||
|Best Supporting Actress – International Competition||Michelle Pfeiffer||Won[a]|
|Dorian Awards||Supporting Film Performance of the Year – Actress||Michelle Pfeiffer||Nominated|||
|Campy Flick of the Year||Mother!||Won|
|Empire Awards||Best Horror Film||Pending|||
|Fright Meter Awards||Best Horror Movie||Nominated|||
|Best Director||Darren Aronofsky||Nominated|
|Best Actress in a Leading Role||Jennifer Lawrence||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actress||Michelle Pfeiffer||Nominated|
|Best Screenplay||Darren Aronofsky||Nominated|
|Best Editing||Andrew Weisblum||Won|
|Best Cinematography||Matthew Libatique||Nominated|
|Golden Raspberry Awards||Worst Director||Darren Aronofsky||Nominated|||
|Worst Actress||Jennifer Lawrence||Nominated|
|Worst Supporting Actor||Javier Bardem (also for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales)||Nominated|
|Houston Film Critics Society||Best Poster Design||Mother!||Nominated|
|Indiewire Critics' Poll||Best Supporting Actress||Michelle Pfeiffer||5th place[b]|||
|Las Vegas Film Critics Society||Best Horror/Sci-Fi Film||Mother!||Nominated|||
|Miskolc International Film Festival||Best Film||Darren Aronofsky||Nominated|
|North Texas Film Critics Association||Best Actress||Jennifer Lawrence||Nominated|||
|Online Film Critics Society||Best Picture||Mother!||Nominated|||
|Online Film & Television Association||Best Movie Poster||Runner-up|||
|Phoenix Critics Circle||Best Mystery or Thriller Film||Nominated|||
|Venice Film Festival||Golden Lion||Nominated|
|Visual Effects Society||Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature||Dan Schrecker, Colleen Bachman, Ben Snow, Wayne Billheimer and Peter Chesney||Nominated|||