Sep 18, 2017

Art and marriage have a gloriously challenging time.


Grade: B+

Director: Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan)

Screenplay: Aronofsky

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence (Passengers), Javier Bardem (The Sea Inside)

Rating: R

Runtime: 2 hr 1 min

by John DeSando

“I know what it's like when you're just starting out, and you think you have all the time in the world, and... you know, you're not going to be so young forever. Have kids! Then you'll be creating something together! This is all just... setting.” Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer)

 What a phantasmagoric setting it is! Darren Aronofsky is mad about motherhood or rather the process of giving birth either physical or metaphorical. In his mother! he directs and writes a horror potboiler with unsurprising scary tropes but an allegorical heft not seen yet this year.  Poe would have approved.

Having characters with no names, only generics like woman or poet, allows the writer/director immediately to plunge into the figurative with our approval. The poet (Javier Bardem)) and his wife (Jennifer Lawrence) occupy a mansion that could serve well  any such gothic setting from Frankenstein to Psycho except that it is being rebuilt from a ruinous fire, a phoenix rebirth helped by the construction skills of the wife and the spirit of her youth.

Her being pregnant helps the allegory of the artist's creating and complements their apparent devotion to each other in the creation process. The film seems also to be commenting on the dangers of the January-May marriage. He can't write or make love in this sterile time of his career and marriage.

Not to worry, for they receive visitors, starting with an ill doctor (Ed Harris) and his stone-cold wife, Woman, who begin to upend the couple's life with fan adoration and frank comments about their marriage. A splendid home-invasion thriller this turns out to be as their loony family and countless fans appear. Aranofsky’s Grand- Guignol ending is over the top but effective translating a fearful anxiety the couple has over home invasion.

What happens is a mash up of Rosemary's Baby, Black Swan, and Carrie with any other invasion film that becomes more than home busting. Indeed, this tense black comedy is largely a commentary on the challenges of art and partly about troubled marriage.  The narcissism of creation and the obsession of the writer to be loved are important motifs of the film as it graphically paints the fall of the house of art.

Some audience might grow tired of the Lawrence close ups, which draw us in but also cause us the pain of identifying with her, caring about her more than the artist can. Yet, caring is what art does, close or from afar, writing or filmmaking.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at