TIFF 2017: mother! Review

Special Presentations 

One should approach seeing Darren Aronofsky’s mother! like they would taking a psychedelic drug. Make sure you’re in a good headspace before going in, otherwise you’re not going to have a good time. This film is like the Dunkirk of psychological horror movies. It’s relentless, visceral, and extremely stress-inducing. One could also add “provocative” to this list of adjectives, but that word doesn’t do justice the inevitable outrage mother! will cause in some.

Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem play a married couple who seem relatively happy in the beginning. He’s a successful poet struggling with writer’s block, and she spends most of her time fixing up their large, cavernous house which was damaged by a fire. There’s talk of children, but they seem unsure. An unexpected guest arrives (Ed Harris) who it turns out is a fan of the poet’s work. Naturally the writer takes to him, oblivious to the imposition on his wife when he invites the somewhat inconsiderate and sickly stranger to stay over. The stranger’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) soon shows up on their doorstep, and is even ruder than her husband. These annoyances and inconveniences steadily escalate in unpredictable ways throughout the film to an eventually brutal and terrifying climax.

The entire film takes place within the one house, and is shot almost exclusively in close-ups, lending to its claustrophobic atmosphere. Literally every shot is either a close up of Lawrence, or whatever it is she’s looking at. During the TIFF press conference, Aronofsky noted that 66 minutes of the film’s two hour runtime is close ups of Lawrence’s face, so if her performance didn’t work, the film certainly wouldn’t have. Most people probably won’t even notice this, as it’s what she sees that will haunt audiences long after leaving the theatre, much like images from Aronofsky’s Requiem For a Dream and Black Swan have before this. So if you’re planning on seeing this opening weekend, make sure you show up on time, because you DO NOT want to get stuck in the front row for this one.


Like much of Aronofsky’s work, mother! is rife with allegory and religious symbolism, but even if that goes over your head, there’s much to experience here on the most basic of levels. The film has already drawn obvious comparisons with Rosemary’s Baby, but believe me, this inescapable nightmare makes Polanski’s prenatal horror feel like a nursery rhyme. Aronofksy knows exactly what he’s doing with mother!: disturbing us en masse by cranking up the intensity every. damn. minute.