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On Tuesday night at the Venice Film Festival, Darren Aronofsky premieres his new thriller Mother!, which has been kept tightly under wraps until now. The film’s press screenings divided critics — the morning debut was met with loud boos and a smattering of applause, not unlike Aronofsky’s 2006 Lido launch of The Fountain.
The horror film stars Jennifer Lawrence as an angelic housewife who puts aside her every need to renovate a home for her husband (Javier Bardem), a poet with a bad case of writer’s block. When mysterious strangers (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) stop by and make themselves at home, Lawrence’s character is uneasy, but she relents to her husband, who thinks the intrusion may help with his writer’s block. She becomes pregnant and continues to turn over any ounce of common sense to satisfy her husband, until her entire world inevitably falls out right from under her.
For Aronofsky, making Lawrence’s character completely submissive was intentional. “It really has to do with the allegory of the film and what we’re trying to do there,” he said, revealing later that the film is one of many in competition this year dealing with the topic of climate change and the future of the planet. Hinting at the day in the Genesis creation story when God made man, he also said, “If you think about Day 6 in your history and in your bibles, you’ll kind of figure out where the film starts.” The film branches into several biblical references, including, among other things, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel and the Plagues of Egypt.
“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 further explained of writing the script. “It was the strangest thing. It came out of living on this planet and sort of seeing what’s happening around us and not being able to do anything. I just had a lot of rage and anger and I just wanted to channel it into one emotion, one feeling.”
On the state of the planet, Aronofsky said: “I think it’s being undone by humanity. I don’t blame one gender over the other gender. I think it is about how people are insatiable, how there’s this endless consumption.”
The director then brought up Susan Griffin’s 1978 book Women and Nature as a major influence on the film, suggesting that the Lawrence’s character “mother” represents Mother Earth, and her destruction symbolizes how people treat the environment. “I think there is absolutely a connection,” he said of how both women and the environment are treated. “America is schizophrenic. We go from backing the Paris climate [accord] to eight months later pulling out. It’s tragic, but in many ways, we’ve revealed who the enemy is and now we can go attack it.”
Aronofsky also noted that setting the film in one location was inspired by Luis Bunuel’s Exterminating Angel, in which all of the action took place in one room, symbolizing something much bigger. “Everyone can identify with someone who can go to your house and throw a piece of garbage on your floor or burn a hole in your carpet with a cigarette,” he said. “But they don’t understand when you throw a piece of paper out on the street.”
Bardem said the audience could have many different interpretations from the film: “It’s the relation between a creator and his creation, call it a writing piece, or a house or the earth itself.”
As Bardem’s (much younger) onscreen wife, taking on a role of a submissive woman was something entirely new for Lawrence. “It was a completely different character from anything I’ve ever done before. It was also a completely different side of myself that I wasn’t in touch with and I really didn’t know yet,” she said. “We had a really rigorous rehearsal process of three months. It was a part of me that Darren really helped me get in touch with.
“When you’re doing a film from an allegory, do metaphors affect the way you act? No. You find your character and you find your character’s truth,” added Lawrence. “It never would have been right for my character to wear shoes. Nature is her creation.”
Aronofsky also addressed the mixed reactions coming out of Venice. “I think it’s a very, very strong cocktail. Of course there are going to be people who are not going to want that type of experience. And that’s fine,” said Aronofsky. “I’ve been very clear that this is a roller coaster, and only come on it if you’re prepared to loop the loop a few times.”
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