Venice + Toronto 2017: Aronofsky’s mother!

“If the only thing we wanted, or expected, a horror film to do was to get a rise out of you—to make your eyes widen and your jaw drop, to leave you in breathless chortling spasms of WTF disbelief—then Darren Aronofsky’s mother! would have to be reckoned some sort of masterpiece,” begins Variety’s Owen Gleiberman. “As it is, the movie, which stars Jennifer Lawrence as a woman who slips down a rabbit hole of paranoid could-this-be-happening? reality (she flushes a beating heart down the toilet; blood in the shape of a vagina melts through the floorboards; and oh, the wackjobs who keep showing up!), is far from a masterpiece. It’s more like a dazzlingly skillful machine of virtual reality designed to get nothing but a rise out of you. It’s a baroque nightmare that’s about nothing but itself.”

But at the Playlist, Jessica Kiang gives mother! an A: “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. Seldom has a title ever earned its exclamation point in more emphatic fashion.”

“What, exactly, is going on in mother! and what, in the end, is the point?” asks Time’s Stephanie Zacharek. “That’s for Aronofsky to know and you to find out. Maybe. In his first film since the 2014 Noah, Aronofsky sifts through Roman Polanski’s wastebasket and weeds out a little Repulsion here, a lot of Rosemary’s Baby there. He tosses in a soupçon of Gaslight, and a pinch or two of Evil Dead and Saving Private Ryan while he's at it. Poke a stick into the psychology of mother! you might come up with something like this: The male artist both punishes and worships the muse; he needs her to get stuff done, but 99% of the time he doesn’t really want her around. Sometimes he’s nice, but mostly he’s cruel. The muse smiles and brings him a snack, hoping that will help. Mother! is ambitious and dorky, like a Hieronymus Bosch painting redone as swirl-art.”

“The film is divided into two parts that roughly parallel one another for reasons that eventually make themselves clear,” explains Ben Croll at IndieWire. “Both follow married couple Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem (and yes, their nearly twenty-year age gap is an important and oft-commented upon plot point), who go unnamed as a way of telegraphing that they’re meant to represent Bigger Things. . . . The two live off in the countryside in his stately old manse. The house was nearly destroyed long before they married, and they’ve returned to fix it up before starting a family. That’s her plan, anyway. He—a world-famous poet with a bad case of writer’s block—mostly sits in his study and broods over the empty page. At least, until the Man (Ed Harris) comes-a-knockin’. The Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer)—and chaos—soon follows.”

“Brian Gleeson and Domhnall Gleeson show up as their feuding, aggressively demanding sons, and mother’s carefully calibrated existence begins to shred,” writes Screen’s Fionnuala Halligan. “Aronofsky equates society’s use of women as a leech-like sucking similar to its abuse of the planet with an endless need for more-more-more, yet this is also an allegory, with Lawrence as the nurturing mother Earth. He also has plenty to say about the empty obsession of celebrity. In fact, 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.”

“This is a mad, transfixing, rolling thunder-crash of a film—What To Expect When You’re Expecting by way of Goya’s Disasters of War—that holds its considerable nerve until the final cut to black,” writes the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin.

More from John Bleasdale (CineVue, 5/5) and Filippo L’Astorina (Upcoming, 5/5).

Updates, 9/6: “I was exhilarated and enthralled by each of the movie’s 120 minutes despite the fact that ultimately I felt only a limited affinity with what it was communicating,” writes Glenn Kenny at “If mother! catches on in the same way Aronofsky’s Black Swan did—and I suspect it will—cinephiles and other factions will be arguing about it all through the fall, and beyond.”

“This is plainly Aronofsky’s aim: not so much to entertain as to infect.” New York Magazine’s David Edelstein: “In his debut, Pi, he put the protagonist’s obsession with that circumferential constant into dizzying visual and aural swirls. In Requiem for a Dream, he induced the jittery highs and desolate lows of speed and heroin. The Wrestler simulated a masochistic orgy, the title character’s physical pain a road to ecstatic oneness with the universe. Black Swan evoked an artist’s switchback ride to madness—and self-immolation. Except for his loopy swoon-song, The Fountain, Aronofsky has hit all his marks, achieving everything he has set out to do—no small feat. But once he has his premises, he doesn’t develop them, either because he doesn’t know that’s required or he thinks that it would hobble his transcendentalist objectives. His entire dramatic strategy is escalation. A character who begins mildly delirious will become rather delirious, utterly delirious, ultradelirious, and then burst into flames. The end is like the beginning, only much, much more so.”

“There’s lashing hostility in [mother!’s] excesses,” writes Guy Lodge for Vanity Fair, “the fevered insecurity of an artist who fears the attention of his public as much as he does their abandonment, and an acrid streak of romantic regret that might, if you squint just right, make this The Fountain’s most unlikely bookend. That film was his valentine to then-partner Rachel Weisz. This one? I wouldn’t dare speculate, but my lurid side would give a barrowful of pennies for Weisz’s thoughts.”

Mother! is, without doubt, the most radical studio film since The Last Temptation of Christ,” writes Time Out’s Joshua Rothkopf, “and your disbelief at its daring will be part of the fun. Matthew Libatique’s camera, hovering close to Lawrence’s brow like an angel of sympathy, helps us into her emotions, but just as powerfully Aronofsky weaves in a savage indictment of ‘artistic’ male ego and entitlement that makes his climax feel self-critical. In an intensely personal way, mother! is an apology to anyone who’s ever felt eaten alive by love at its most selfish. Naturally, it’s required viewing for married couples.”

“Darren Aronofsky’s toweringly outrageous film leaves no gob unsmacked,” adds the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw. “It is an event-movie detonation, a phantasmagorical horror and black-comic nightmare that jams the narcosis needle right into your abdomen.”

Updates, 9/7: “Aronofsky’s awareness of his own directorial grandeur ultimately turns it into a self-referential, hallucinatory trip,” finds Leonardo Goi, writing for Cinema Scope.Mother! is the visually entrancing, out-of-this-world project everyone expected, yet still falls well short of its ambitions (an Aronofskyian theme if there ever was one).”

“I think it’s okay to be confused,” Aronofsky tells the Guardian’s Xan Brooks. “The movie has a dream-logic and that dream-logic makes sense. But if you try to unscrew it, it kind of falls apart. So it’s a psychological freak-out. You shouldn’t over-explain it.”

Updates, 9/10:Mother! “promises to be a chamber piece Lars Von Trier might have lifted from Edward Albee, and then morphs into an increasingly nutty and indefatigably silly masquerade,” writes Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema.

Similarly, C. J. Prince at the Film Stage: “Starting out as Aronofsky returning to his wheelhouse of paranoia thrillers in the vein of Pi and Black Swan,mother! becomes something much different and flat-out stupid than anything he’s made up to this point. Yes, the usual elements are all here—the mental breakdown of its lead character, the handheld, close-up visuals he adopted since The Wrestler, and the descent into full-blown madness in the final act—but they’re working within a thematic scale around the same size as his biblical epic Noah.Mother! is “an exercise in watching someone drive their one, ridiculous idea straight off the tallest cliff imaginable.”

Updates, 9/11: “Ingmar Bergman used to stage such danses macabres of creators and muses,” writes Fernando F. Croce in the Notebook. “Aronofsky scarcely has that old chamber-music conductor’s patience—like a demented bolero player, he moves his circular stories upward, accelerating all the while. So the torment experienced by the heroine is not elucidated or even passably visualized, merely multiplied.”

“It both owes a debt to horror masters like Polanski and De Palma and is so distinctly a movie that no one else could make,” finds Brian Tallerico at

“Love it, hate it, or stuck somewhere in between, it’s something you simply need to see to believe,” suggests E. Oliver Whitney at ScreenCrush.

Updates, 9/14: “Is there such a thing as interpretive spoiler?” wonders the New York TimesA. O. Scott. “Mr. Aronofsky ingeniously braids his movie’s hermeneutic structure into its plot, making it hard to say what it’s about without revealing what happens. All of the suspense and most of the fun in mother!—and don’t listen to anyone who natters on about how intense or disturbing it is; it’s a hoot!—has to do with the elaboration and execution of a central idea. Once you grasp that idea, you are left wondering just how far Mr. Aronofsky will go with it. The answer is all the way and then some—from Genesis to Revelation and back again.”

“Every ‘daring’ choice [Aronofsky] makes stylistically contains a hedged bet,” notes Michael Sragow, writing for Film Comment. “He may eliminate music from his sound track, but he compensates with a stream of aural effects, including creaks and groans from the bowels of the house and thumping heartbeats. He may limit his camera movements to Lawrence’s perspective, but he turns the couple’s rambling manse into a surreal funhouse full of visual ways out. Every “bold’ stroke he attempts substantively merely adds an additional excuse for faux-symbolic weight and histrionic hyperbole. By the time the two children of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ show up . . . the action goes south and the allegory ends up East of Eden.”

But for Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the A.V. Club, it’s “a delirious allegory that lets loose various subtexts and criticisms of the Bible (e.g., God as an inconsistently written character) to rewrite scripture as surreal psychological horror, with the human race as uninvited guests pissing and screwing where they don’t belong and their creator as a husband who might be gaslighting his wife. It’s almost unbelievable that something this narratively arty is being released as a mainstream horror movie, but the filmmaking ranks as some of Aronofsky’s most skillful.”

“Like the environmentally themed poem that was passed out before the film's Toronto International Film Festival screening, this biblical symbolism is something of a red herring,” argues Alison Willmore at Buzzfeed. “Mother! doesn't really parse as a religious fable or an ecological one, but elements of both swirl in the increasingly heavy atmosphere as Lawrence pleads with Bardem for a return to normalcy. She wants to go back to the private paradise she's been trying to maintain for the two of them, and for the child she's finally conceived. Bardem finally seems to hear her, and also starts writing again. And that's when things start going epically off the rails.”

Mother! is “a riot of religious symbolism, of-the-moment socio-political valences, and cinematic references that attempts to unite themes from nearly all of Aronofsky’s work,” writes Christopher Gray for Slant. “Like the protagonist of the director's Noah, the poet is unafraid to cause destruction if it leads to the creation of something greater, and like Requiem for a Dream’s addicts, his willingness to destroy others in order to create ends in its bracing, disgusting logical conclusion.”

“Reviewing a movie like this seems utterly futile as it seems precision-tooled to alienate,” finds Little White LiesDavid Jenkins. “Aronofsky keeps the details vague enough so the film is all things to all viewers. You want hysterical climate disaster metaphor? You got it. You want horrifying gynecological shock tactics? Right here. You want Biblical fire and brimstone transposed to the idyllic nuclear family? Step this way.”

Will Leitch for Paste: “Aronofsky hasn’t lost his sense of creeping dread—you could take away everything from him, but you can never take that—and the movie is never dull, but it does take an awfully long time to get around to what it has to say, and I’d be loathe to say it was worth it.”

At IndieWire, Chris O’Falt notes that Jóhann Jóhannsson, who composed the scores for Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario and Arrival, composed one for mother!, too—but, as Michael Sragow notes above, Aronofsky eventually opted to drop it. Says Jóhannsson: “mother! is a film where half measures have no place and after Darren and I had explored many different approaches, my instinct was to eliminate the score entirely. Erasure is a big part of the creative process and in this case, we knew we had to take this approach to its logical extreme.”

For the New York Times,Aronofsky walks us through a scene (2’53”).

Updates, 9/15: Reverse Shot co-editor Michael Koresky rarely finds himself on Team Aronofsky, but he will grant that the director “doesn’t do things by half: a revenge fable, his latest is nothing less than an expression of Mother Nature retaliating against those who have plundered and pillaged, raped and ransacked her. That’s a fairly lofty, perhaps ridiculous, thing to dramatize in the literal terms of domestic melodrama. But this is strenuous, kamikaze filmmaking, and at least for two hours Aronofsky persuades that its ends are eternally urgent enough to justify the hyperbolic means.”

Mother! is a preposterous, self-important and utterly crass movie, of the sort I’ve come to expect from writer-director Darren Aronofsky,” writes Nick Pinkerton for Sight & Sound. “It is also a virtuoso performance that flexes more filmmaking muscle than almost anything else that’s appeared in a multiplex over the course of this woebegone year, a film that establishes a tone of pervasive anxiety, then sets about the task of gathering narrative kindling to be set alight in a blowout Walpurgisnacht.”

“Suffice it to say that when The Verge speculates that mother! will be ‘2017’s most hated movie,’ it’s in part because the movie is incredibly ridiculous,” writes K. Austin Collins at the Ringer. “But when isn’t Aronofsky ridiculous? That instinct has sometimes led him astray. But it’s just as often pushed him in unusually thrilling directions, as in the case of his biggest hit, Black Swan, which is so psychosexually ludicrous—and knowingly so—that it transforms an already psychologically lurid tale of artistic obsession into outright pulp. This is why Aronofsky is a director I’ve never enjoyed arguing about. If the premise of your case against him is that his movies are over the top and fantastically silly, I can’t say I disagree, only that I don’t mind silly. Aronofsky treats melodrama like fantasy—which it is—and then perverts it to his own odd little ends. It’s corny, but so are movies.”

“Is Aronofsky using mother! to make his confession, perhaps, or seeking absolution from those of us who doggedly sat through The Fountain (2006)?” wonders Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. “Either way, the folie de grandeur is overwhelming. No one could deny the zest of his eye, as it seeks out entropy and ruin—wait for the sticky and suppurating wound that opens up in the floorboards—or the sharpness of his ear. When powdered medication is tipped into a glass of water, the fizz fills the auditorium around you. Yet the movie’s grasp of experience feels tenuous, trippy, and, dare one say, adolescent; if you gave an extremely bright fifteen-year-old a bag of unfamiliar herbs to smoke, and forty million dollars or so to play with, mother! would be the result.”

“Confounding social interactions are forced upon Jennifer Lawrence’s title character with the dream illogic of a half-dozen passages from Buñuel,” writes Ray Pride for Newcity. “Breughel. Bosch. From the 1960s: American theater ‘happenings,’ cinematic central European political parables. (The house is a house, of course, but our planet as well.) Sound design of yawing specificity sustains the fever: doors close with a sepulchral thump. And, well, the religious parallels are there in blood and thunder, to be taken and mildly masticated or eagerly devoured, depending on your personal training and beliefs.”

“It’s not that mother! is so bad that it’s good,” writes NPR’s Linda Holmes, “it’s that audacity increases as a filmmaker comes closer and closer to that collapse into [nonsense], and in the end, all you’re arguing about is whether he stopped one step before, or one step after, the edge. Either he is a genius, or he is Wile E. Coyote, suspended in midair, holding up a painted sign on a wooden stick that says ‘BUT I’M A POET.’ Aronofsky, here, is a step from that edge. Maybe half a step. Either the film has one guttural shriek too many, or it stopped at the last possible breath.”

“Bardem and the rest of the cast are strong, but it is Lawrence’s groundedness and humanity that tether her director’s wilder fancies,” finds the Atlantic’s Christopher Orr.

“The dazzling spectacle on display here just isn’t enough to distract from the sheer thudding obviousness of all that dopey allegory,” finds Matt Lynch at In Review Online.

For the Playlist, Gregory Ellwood asks Aronofsky “if he was amused at all by the varying reactions from audiences so far. ‘I mean, I don’t know if amused is quite the right word. It makes me happy,’ Aronofsky says. ‘The whole idea, for me, of filmmaking is to start conversation. I want people to be moved and moved enough to talk about it and discuss it. That’s dope. . . . I had been thinking sort of about the allegory you were talking about, which had to turn this really global issue into something in human terms. And then I had some personal heartbreak in my own life that I decided to blend them together into this one beast.’”

Update, 9/16:Variety’s Owen Gleiberman is back to elaborate on his problem with mother! “I do think that Darren Aronofsky meant to make a movie of many layers. It’s not that I don’t believe the ‘allegorical’ levels of mother! exist. It’s that they’re too abstract—a theoretical frosting spread over the literal-minded cake of the movie itself. Allegory can be like that. You could take the worst horror film of the year, about an innocent couple on their honeymoon torn apart by their encounter with a demon, set that movie on an idyllic tropical island and call the demon ‘Snake,’ and voilà!—you have the Adam and Eve story. But who cares? The allegory of mother! demonstrates that a movie can mean a whole lot without what it means meaning anything. And the box-office grosses of mother! suggest that if satire is what closes on Saturday night, allegory is what crashes and burns on opening weekend (even if your lead actress is the biggest movie star on the planet).”

Updates, 9/17: “Aronofsky has said that the first draft of mother! poured out of him in a five-day ‘fever dream’ and it’s tempting to review the result in similarly spontaneous fashion,” writes the Observer’s Mark Kermode. “Yet more than any other of Aronofsky’s works, this is a film that demands distance and decompression. In the screening room I found mother! an increasingly exasperating experience—a claustrophobic exercise in ghastly black comedy; relentless, ridiculous, and occasionally panic-inducing. Yet give it time to settle, and the labor pains of watching mother! produce something that you could grow to love.”

“As I was thinking about how to structure it, I suddenly realized that going back to the beautiful myths of the Bible could actually be a starting off point to unfold the history of people on the planet,” Aronofsky tells Matt Patches at Thrillist.

Updates, 9/18: Among the things Abraham Riesman asks Aronofsky about in his interview for Vulture is working with Jennifer Lawrence: “As far as raw, natural talent, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like what she has the ability to do. And she has very little formal training. . . . During the rehearsals, she was very, very relaxed. Was present, but never really pushed herself. And it wasn’t appropriate for me to sort of push that, even though I wasn’t sure how she was going to do it. And I really didn’t get to know the character until we started shooting, and she showed up.

Also at Vulture, David Edelstein ranks Aronofsky’s films. Coming in at #1 is The Wrestler: “For once, the control freak Aronofsky stood by and watched his protagonist’s agony instead of generating it.”

Back to Abraham Riesman and Vulture for a moment; he’s got a spoiler-laden list of “potential Judeo-Christian echoes in the flick.”

Aronofsky's Obsessions from Julian Palmer

mother! is Darren Aronofsky’s Stardust Memories, his vehemently exaggerated satire on the burdens of fame,” argues the New Yorker’s Richard Brody. “And for anyone who thought that Woody Allen’s 1980 film looked a gift horse in the mouth, critiquing fame from within its comfortable confines, mother! tops it—it’s the cinematic version of an equine root canal. . . . For Aronofsky, the calculus is cruel: the adoring crowd is motivated by a greedy and cavalier selfishness that is sought, enabled, nourished, sustained, and encouraged by the artist himself. His film 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.”

“I was riveted by the heedless spectacle and totally enveloping film technique,” writes Film Comment editor Nicolas Rapold. “Apart from the biblical obsessions, Aronofsky here again restages the creative act as trauma, down to the sadistic consumption of a muse figure. It’s a jaw-dropping circus-like self-immolation by a filmmaker, easy to mock but not to shrug off, but it also doubles as a remarkable representation of contemporary sensory overload and the warped continuity of subjectivity created by a glutting landscape of social and other media.”

José Arroyo and Michael Glass discuss mother! on Episode 5 of Eavesdropping at the Movies (30’53”).

Updates, 9/19: “Whenever Michelle Pfeiffer is onscreen, the film becomes electric,” writes Angelica Jade Bastién at Vulture. “Amid all this chaos, the moment that first leaps into my mind when I think of the film is Pfeiffer, encircling a pallid, frightened Jennifer Lawrence, with a cutting smirk on her face that suggests her character is capable of great violence. She’s the only actor in the film able to give her role real-world weight without sacrificing the mythological nature that undergirds its construction.”

David Sims for the Atlantic: “The joy of mother!, to me, lies beyond the religious metaphor of God and Adam and Eve and so on; judge it just on that level, and it feels bludgeoning from a storytelling perspective. There’s a lot more to dig into, some of it probably conscious on Aronofsky’s part, some of it not so much.”

“Is it an ecological allegory, with Javier Bardem as an absent-minded god and Jennifer Lawrence as a frazzled Mother Earth?” asks Sam Adams at Slate. “A horror movie about egocentric male artists and the women who thanklessly support them? Or are Bardem and Lawrence playing two halves of the creative psyche, he the public-facing glory hound, she the tender of fragile ideas? Maybe it’s about gaslighting, or the trauma of unwanted houseguests, or what a shitty husband Aronofsky was to Rachel Weisz. Or the Bible? (Definitely the Bible.) Mother! is evocative enough to sustain all these explanations and more. But there is one person who needs to stop explaining what mother! is about, and that person is its writer-director, Darren Aronofsky.”

For the New York Times,Melena Ryzik talks with Aronofsky, Lawrence—“As a couple, they can seem mismatched, Mr. Aronofsky the buttoned-up cineaste to her expressive exuberance”—and Bardem. Ryzik notes that the cast and crew “began with a three-month rehearsal in a Brooklyn warehouse, taping up a version of the set, to fine-tune Matthew Libatique’s cinematography. . . . Editing took a grueling fifty-three weeks.”

Updates, 9/21:Aronofsky and William Friedkin discuss mother! on the new Director’s Cut podcast (33’24”).

Village Voice critics April Wolfe and Alan Scherstuhl “have elected to sync up Pacific Rim–style to take it on. Warning: The discussion below delves right into what we might call spoilers if a movie like mother! could be spoiled.”

The New Yorker’s Richard Brody is back with more: “What renders mother! somewhat difficult to understand isn’t its complexity but, rather, its simplicity. The action is so far out front, detached from backstory or worldly complications, that the psychology of the protagonists is nearly effaced. . . . mother! isn’t an allegory except by directorial decree.”

For Vanity Fair,Greg Noone asks composer Jóhann Jóhannsson why there’s no score: “It’s like a sculpture. You start with a slab of granite or marble, and you carve things out. And in this case, we carved out all the granite, all the marble. And none of it was left. That was just the reality of it—and that was what the film wanted. That was what mother! basically demanded.”

Update, 9/24: “Aronofsky makes the black comedy that he always had inside him, and it's no less audacious for his having built it out of spare parts,” writes Michael Sicinski. With Black Swan, “it seemed as though Aronofsky was ready to embrace his inner Jess Franco, if not outright recognize his true place in the scheme of things—a maker of ripe, English-language telenovelas. But he always pulled back until now.”

Update, 9/25: “A woman creates life; a man creates art! The conceit is so astoundingly regressive that it is hard to believe that Aronofsky could be seriously proposing it.” Alexandra Schwartz for the New Yorker: “Aronofsky may think that he is showing us something profound in its unsettling extremity, but nothing could be more routine, more familiar, than a woman made to suffer for the sake of a self-important man.”

Updates, 9/27: “Whatever else it is,” writes Lee Weston Sabo for Bright Lights,mother! is ultimately a woman’s anxious nightmare about what it feels like to put your heart and soul into creating something only for people to take part of it for themselves, to be a woman who loves a man she admires and gives him everything she has even though he cannot love her back and gives her nothing in return.”

In a spoiler-ridden piece for the Atlantic,Sophie Gilbert argues that “there is a context within which mother! makes perfect sense, and a discipline to which it’s remarkably faithful: Antonin Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty.”

Updates, 9/30: “One may wind up concluding that by far the most terrifying thing about mother! is that Darren Aronofsky seems to be Hollywood’s idea of an intellectual, our own brainy, home-grown auteur,” suggests Francine Prose, writing for the New York Review of Books.

“The first half is bloated,” writes Clayton Schuster at Vague Visages. “The second half is initially dazzling but ultimately lives in the hinterlands between enigmatic and incomprehensible. . . . If there is one component to mother! that’s indisputably genius, it’s that Aronofsky made a film that people can’t stop talking about.”

Update, 10/2: On the latest Film Comment Podcast (31’46”), editor Nicolas Rapold talks with Aronofsky about “the film’s technical craft and its intense subjectivity, as well as what Aronofsky learned from his college professor . . . Miklós Jancsó.”

Update, 10/3: For Eileen G’Sell at Hyperallergic, mother! “succeeds precisely where Aronofsky’s earlier films do not; it doesn’t pretend to be realism, nor does it simply bat its eyes at horror. It is Black Swan dialed up a dozen grand jetés,The Wrestler body-slammed into the comically baroque.”

Update, 10/24: “The aesthetic mode here is that of the combat sublime,” writes Nolan Gear for the Los Angeles Review of Books, “a shuttling between the overwhelming immensity and visceral particularity of armed conflict, simultaneously mapping war as a system and surviving war as a terrain. Think of Emmanuel Lubezki’s unending tracking shots in Children of Men (2006), the way one body set in motion is made to navigate unnavigable scenes of terror. Both films take the problem of the untrained civilian in the warzone as the grounds for their most astonishing technical virtuosity. Amid the dazzling, dizzying vicissitudes of modern warmaking, Aronofsky and Cuarón foreground pregnant women’s bodies as the privileged site for the crisscrossing temporalities of crisis: a double-pulse in the berserk distended present, where the future is continually foreclosed. In both cases, pregnancy is exceptional, overdetermined, Rosemaryesque, and already and forever the film’s, not the mother’s own. Indeed, mother!’s only mother cannot mother, placing her among the many women who would flee the regulating frame of patriarchy’s close-up if they could.”

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