A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that while mother! isn't as gratuitously graphic as torture-porn movies like Saw, it's definitely violent and gory -- and in a way that's actually more effective and horrifying. There are scenes of sieges and executions, but it's much more about how director Darren Aronofsky ratchets up the film's tension in subtly terrifying ways, with memorable images and ideas that might give younger viewers lasting nightmares. There's sensuality without explicit sex -- and when a topless woman is shown, it's definitely not in a sexual context. There's also some language (including "c--t," "f--k," and "whore") and drinking/substance use. But more than anything, it's the intensity of Aronofsky's movie that disqualifies it for most younger viewers (and even some older ones). Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem star.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
MOTHER! starts with a couple in a cocoon: a secluded old house, away from the world. But all is not quite well. The young wife (Jennifer Lawrence) is warm, beautiful, devoted, and highly capable -- she's restoring their once-devastated home all by herself -- but the middle-aged husband (Javier Bardem) is suffering through a long creative dry spell. His frustrations are spilling into their relationship. When unexpected visitors arrive (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, for starters), their safe existence is deeply challenged in this highly metaphorical film.
Is it any good?
Darren Aronofsky's mother! is superbly crafted -- and confounding. It defies easy description. It's not the kind of film you can simply call "good" or "bad," though its technique -- sound design, production design, cinematography, editing -- is certainly top-notch, instantly award-worthy. And while the film's idiosyncratic journey into surrealistic nightmare doesn't make it easy to recommend, the adventurous might find it rewarding. It begins as a deeply unsettling, extraordinarily acted chamber piece. The central couple (Lawrence, Bardem) are in an idyllic location, but there's subtle tension in their relationship as the husband struggles with his work. External forces (in the form of Harris and Pfeiffer, to start) threaten their equilibrium but also invigorate them. Aronofsky's script is purposefully underwritten to allow space for actors at the top of their game to show a great deal by relating to each other. And, just as much is unsaid, much is unseen: Meticulously arranged shots allow figures barely into the frame, creating tension as we peer around corners, down long halls, through doorways. The expertly crafted soundscape places audiences inside the beautiful and terrifying old house.
In its later stages, the film escalates in every way. Its earlier movements are marked by finely tuned ratcheting up of everything; it all occurs by degrees. As the cocoon shatters, so does reality. Without giving too much away, mother! becomes an all-out cinematic assault, for better or worse. It's a highly metaphorical film, but to discuss what its underlying themes reveal themselves to be would ruin the experience for those who haven't seen it. In a director's note, Aronofsky says this "fever dream" script "poured out of" him in five days. That's both easy and hard to believe. It has the insanity of dream logic, as well as the haggard free-association of a subconscious bombarded by news reports, phone alerts, and Hurricane Sandy, as the note cites. On the other hand, the film's execution is so precise, so expert that it feels too painstakingly layered to be spontaneous, even as it becomes more surreal. "Fever dream" is the right description for this dazzling display of cinematic skill that veers into madness.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in mother! How does it compare to what you've seen in ultra-gory or slasher horror movies? Which had more of an impact on you? Why? What's the impact of media violence on kids?
Did you notice the movie's use of sound? Were there times when what you heard didn't go with what you saw (for instance, when she opened the door to the basement and it sounded like a low roar)? How did the sounds you heard intensify the experience?
Sometimes the camera intensely follows the main character, and sometimes there are carefully set-up shots in which other characters are barely in frame. Other times we peer around corners and down long hallways. How did those shots make you feel?
Did you notice anything in the movie that you might consider sexist? Why?
What do you think the film was about?
- In theaters: September 15, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: December 19, 2017
- Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Michelle Pfeiffer, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris
- Director: Darren Aronofsky
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Horror
- Run time: 115 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong disturbing violent content, some sexuality, nudity and language
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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