6:10pm PT by Graeme McMillan
'mother!': What the Critics Are Saying
If there's a throughline in early reviews of Darren Aronofsky's mother!, it's that the movie is an overwhelming, glorious mess of a feature that nonetheless leaves the viewer dazed, confused and utterly impressed by what they've just seen — even if they're not quite sure what it actually was that they've just seen.
According to The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy, the film is "a very Rosemary’s Baby-like intimate horror tale that definitely grabs your attention and eventually soars well over the top to make the bold concluding statement that, for some creators, art is more important than life."
Praising the cinematography of Matthew Libatique and production design of Philip Messina — another common thread across reviews, alongside plaudits for a cast headed by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem — McCarthy writes that mother! is "above all a portrait of an artist who has untethered himself from any and all moral responsibility, one so consumed by his own ego and sense of creative importance that he’s come to believe that nothing and no one remotely competes with the importance of his work."
The notion that mother! might have autobiographical meaning is raised by The Daily Beast's Marlow Stern, who argues that the pic is "ultimately concerned with the parasitic nature of the male artist; how he drains the lifeblood from all those around him in the name of creativity and ego fuel. In that sense, it’s a remarkably self-absorbed film, and one that, allegorical or not, feels like an agonized mea culpa from the artist (Aronofsky) to those in his personal orbit." (Stern also writes, "[T]his is a film designed to fuck with you. And fuck with you it does." That is, I believe, a recommendation.)
For Ben Croll of IndieWire, mother! is "too hazily figurative to be in any way autobiographical," but nonetheless comes across as more than just "another baroquely orchestrated big-screen freak-out in the vein of Black Swan (though it is very much that)." Instead, Croll says, Aronofsky "sends his characters into a nightmarish dreamscape that grows and evolves, particularly in the bonkers last third, which builds in pitch, scope and sheer cinematic audacity, picking up overt religious and political resonance."
Dreamscape, you say? Collider's Brian Formo concurs, likening the movie to "a nightmarish fever dream," although he adds, "it’s truly about the creative processes of an artist, the unrelenting service of a muse, and the public which receives the work and feels like they’re owed more." The key to the pic's success, Formo argues, is the skills of Aronofsky as filmmaker: "Although the idea of the film is perhaps a simple parable of an artist, the muse and the public that starts to sound like a student’s conceit the more you think about it (including a few of the objects used for symbols), Aronofsky’s filmmaking capabilities far outshine his concept."
If you're picking up a tendency towards purple prose in these reviews, you're not imagining it. Here, for example, is Screen International's Fionnuala Halligan, who was so excited by the movie that she described it as "a creative surge that’s like the lancing of a boil, releasing a torrent of despair and disgust for the greedy chaos of society today as well as a self-loathing portrait of the artist as an emotional succubus." (She added, "it’s hard to categorize mother! Its style is a perfect meld with its narrative ambitions and they run in harmony with the current, chaotic times we live in. It unsurprisingly has difficulty in sustaining this world over the long haul, but the end does eventually justify the means.")
But perhaps the best summation of the impact mother! had on critics comes from The Playlist's Jessica Kiang, who responds thusly: "An incendiary religious allegory, a haunted-house horror, a psychological head trip so extreme it should carry a health warning and an apologia for crimes of the creative ego past and not yet committed, it’s not just Aronofsky’s most bombastic, ludicrous and fabulous film, spiked with a kind of reckless, go-for-broke, leave-it-all-up-there-on-the-screen abandon, it is simply one of the most films ever."
With praise like that, who could resist? mother! is set for release Sept. 15 in theaters.