‘mother!’ Is Either The Best Or Worst Movie Of The Year, According To Critics
Critics are calling 'mother!' a "Marmite" film. You get it.
Darren Aronofsky’s notorious new horror-thriller mother! is all over the news at the moment. Even if you haven’t seen the film, or have no interest in the film, there’s no doubt a splashy headline about mother!‘s wild critical response has grabbed you.
The film stars Jennifer Lawrence, in her first role since the sci-fi flop Passengers, and the intensely watchable Javier Bardem. mother!‘s director, Aronofsky, is famous for much-loved mind-bending films Requiem For A Dream, The Wrester and Black Swan, but his last film before mother! was the widely panned, ridiculous biblical epic/Russell Crowe vehicle Noah. The trailer for mother! was intense and skin-crawlingly creepy, and had many Aronofsky/horror fans well hyped for its arrival.
So mother! premiered at the Venice Film Festival to a fair amount of prickly anticipation. Then the reviews — from both critics and the public — began to hit social media. And hoo boy, this might be the most divisive film to premiere in years.
Wait, I’m Confused. What?
mother! is clearly appealing to a very specific audience… and is utterly repellant to a legion of other viewers. More so than any film in recent memory, it feels almost impossible to tell if the film is actually good/worth seeing or not. Some critics are raving; others have given the film a one-star rating.
A fair amount of people are vitriolic in their distaste for the film. In his screed against mother!, the New York Observer critic Rex Reed wrote, “I hesitate to label it the ‘Worst movie of the year’ when ‘Worst movie of the century’ fits it even better”. I mean, ouch. The film has also joined the “exclusive” F club from CinemaScore, a private aggregator that uses audience reactions to determine a film’s grade from A-F. mother! is one of only 12 films to be rated F by audiences since 2004 (others include Stephen Soderbergh’s Solaris remake and The Wicker Man starring Nicolas Cage). That is quite an achievement.
On the flipside, The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw raved about the “crazily brilliant and audacious” film. And The New Yorker‘s Richard Brody even goes so far as to imply the film is so singular it’s above reproach. He writes that mother! “flirts with the ridiculous and sometimes falls into it — though to ridicule it, or Aronofsky, for doing so is to miss both the point and the pleasure”. And even though Junkee’s own Dave Crewe was undecided on the film’s final impact, he did write that “it’s the closest mainstream cinema has gotten to ‘extreme cinema’ in years. That something this fucking extravagant and ambitious and misshapen has made its way into blockbuster cinemas is legitimately astonishing.”
For what it’s worth, Aronofsky doesn’t seem too rankled by the overwhelming negative responses to the film — perhaps because so many other love it, or because, as the adage goes, all publicity is good publicity. However, the film’s distributor in the US, Paramount Pictures, seems at least a little salty about the mother! hate, stating, “Everyone wants original filmmaking, and everyone celebrates Netflix when they tell a story no one else wants to tell. This is our version. We don’t want all movies to be safe. And it’s okay if some people don’t like it.”
So, what’s going on here? How can there be such a discrepancy in the responses to this film? Well, mother! is certainly interesting, at least, and what UK critics often refer to as a “Marmite” film — you either love it or you hate it. And, to aid in your decision whether or not to brave this insane filmgoing experience, we’ve collected a bushel of diverse critical responses to mother!, so you can make up your own mind.
“A Properly Gruelling Physical Experience”
Junkee film reviewer Dave Crewe praised the sheer wildness of mother!, while acknowledging the film’s intense aesthetic and thematic muddiness may not be for everyone. “Where other arthouse directors construct their films with subtlety and sophistication, Aronofsky instead opts for savagery and sensory overload, Crew wrote. “That’s easy to hate. But if, like me, you like your movies unique and unmistakably messy, he’s also easy to love.”
Although Crewe described the film as “like walking away from a bone-shaking rollercoaster ride”, he concludes that he “can’t quite make up [his] if I liked mother! or not”. Crewe also questioned one of the film’s most controversial aspects: its treatment of the film’s star and chief torture victim Jennifer Lawrence. “While the film is supposed to be sympathetic to her character’s plight, towards the back half the perspective shifted. It no longer felt like a masochistic evocation of anxiety and disempowerment, but something more sinister, more sadistic. It felt like something that revelled in Lawrence’s pain.”
“Far From A Masterpiece”
Variety‘s film critic Owen Gleiberman had a far more definitive response to Aronofsky’s mother!, which he called “a dazzlingly skillful machine of virtual reality designed to get nothing but a rise out of you.” He went on “It’s a baroque nightmare that’s about nothing but itself”. Yeesh!
“What’s Thrilling, Horrifying, And Nearly Unbelievable About mother! Is That It Exists”
The New Yorker‘s film critic Richard Brody filed an awe-struck review of mother!. He wrote, “What mother!; achieves, by the catastrophic reach of Aronofsky’s imagination and the grand scale of his filmmaking, is an object that fuses with its subject, a movie that thrusts its bottomless maw of voracious ambitions and desires at viewers and defies them to see his world, and their own, in it.” Which, sure…
He also praised the film for simply existing (above), adding, “not that a studio would put money into it but that a filmmaker would think it up and realise it with such gleefully cataclysmic ardor”. The New Yorker is, it seems, v thirsty for mother!
“The Most Striking Film Of An Erratic Career”
The Sydney Morning Herald‘s Jake Wilson doesn’t really seem to be a huge Aranofsky fan, but he does concede that mother! is “striking” — although it’s never entirely clear whether this is a good or a bad thing. He dwells on the film’s “ambiguity”, which seeps into his own review. He does (sort of, maybe) clarify that, “Whatever you say about the ending, you can’t call it an anticlimax”. Confusing!
“Darren Aronofsky’s Toweringly Outrageous Film Leaves No Gob Unsmacked”
The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw, who gave Dunkirk a five-star rating earlier this year, has bestowed the same blessed number of stars on mother! (I have issues with this. Five stars is a perfect score, bro. Chill out with your star ratings.) The film, which he describes as “an event-movie detonation, a phantasmagorical horror and black-comic nightmare that jams the narcosis needle right into your abdomen” has really gotten Bradshaw going.
Bradshaw praises Lawrence, who he says “carries the film” and concludes: “As horror it is ridiculous, as comedy it is startling and hilarious, and as a machine for freaking you out it is a thing of wonder.” Wowza, what a call.
mother! is in cinemas now.
Matilda Dixon-Smith is Junkee’s Staff Writer. She tweets at @mdixonsmith.