It might be an understatement to say that Darren Aronofsky's latest film "mother!" has been the most divisive movie in recent history.
An example of that can be found in the New York Observer, where 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.”
But Reed isn't aligned with the critical consensus. A lot of critics have been much kinder to the film, which currently boasts a moderate 68% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Of course, the film's CinemaScore begs to differ. "Mother!" received an extraordinary "F" CinemaScore, joining only 11 other films in history to receive this including Steven Soderbergh's "Solaris" and Andrew Dominik's "Killing Them Softly."
Here's a quick, spoiler-free primer on "mother!" to give you an idea of the film's polarizing nature:
Imagine that Jennifer Lawrence isn’t just a woman married to a poet (Javier Bardem), she’s Mother Nature. The strange couple that comes to visit (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) are stand-ins for Adam and Eve, which makes their feuding children Cain and Abel.
As for Lawrence’s husband, he’s God. And when the kitchen sink breaks, that’s the great flood, and the furnace in the basement, well, by now you’re ahead of everybody else.
It's a bit ironic that audiences are so polarized by Aronofsky's latest work. The filmmaker behind "Requiem for a Dream" and "Black Swan" says he keeps the audience's emotions in mind when making a movie, using advice he learned from his mentor, "Cool Hand Luke" director Stuart Rosenberg:
"He always said, You got to make them laugh, cry or scare the beep out of them. I think that's the constant thing [in "mother!"]. The humor in the beginning turning into terror and then hopefully into some type of anguish."
Aronofsky spoke with The Frame's John Horn during a Q&A following a screening at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Below are highlights from the conversation. To hear the entire discussion, click on the player above.
On how the film "Mother!" elicits strong reactions from people:
We always knew it was a strong cocktail. It came very much from a place of a lot of frustration and I guess a certain amount of impotent rage on what was going on in the world. I just kind of took all that passion that I was thinking of outside of my filmmaking work and tried to turn it into a story. And I think this isn't a reflection on what's happening right now in the way we treat our mother. But it's also a cautionary tale which I actually like because in a cautionary tale there's room for optimism and I'm very much an optimist. By looking at how we are actually dealing with and treating our home.
When I was trying to tell the history or the story of people on Mother Earth, I was like, Oh, the Bible could be a really kind of good blueprint to sort of hang all these stories. Whatever you believe, it doesn't matter, but there's power in those stories because we can relate to them and they have different types of meanings for different types of people.
On the timeliness of the movie's release following recent natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey and Irma:
I mean, it's depressing as all hell. Outside of this, I'm on the Board of Directors of the Sierra Club so I'm reading everything that's going on. Two years ago, when I was writing this, it was incredibly heartbreaking. I talk about my grandparents came to this country to give me a better life. And I look at my son and I'm scared. And I think that fear is what inspired me to kind of tell a story from her point of view. ... While those two storms are going on, also the largest forest fire in the history of Canada is burning in British Columbia. You don't think about that but you do think about when someone comes over your house and burns a hole in your carpet with their cigarette and you never forget that person. So I thought maybe, taking the (Luis) Bunuel idea of putting a dinner party and the surreal concept of them stuck in a room and discussing all of society with that one idea, that, hey, there might be a way to use that to take something really big and make it small and then make it more impactful for people.
On the polarizing nature of the film and its "F" CinemaScore:
What's interesting about that is, like, how if you walk out of this movie are you not going to give it an "F?" It's a punch. It's a total punch. And I realize that we were excited by that. We wanted to make a punk movie and come at you. And the reason I wanted to come is because I was very sad and I had a lot of anguish and I wanted to express it. Filmmaking is such a hard journey. People are constantly saying no to you. And to wake up every morning and get out of bed and to face all those no's, you have to be willing to really believe in something. And that's what I look for in my collaborators and what I pitched the actors I said, Look, this isn't going to be a popularity contest. We're basically holding up a mirror to what's going on. All of us are doing this. But that final chapter hasn't been written and hopefully things can change. And, to go back, the fact that it's going down right now and things are really falling apart in a way that is really scary.
It's scary when you talk to the people who are studying this and thinking about this and then you have other people who basically believe in the power of a iPhone that they can communicate to 35 million people in a blink of an eye, yet they don't believe in science in other ways. You know, which is as proven as gravity at this point, really. It has as many people believe in it as believe in gravity. And it scares me and it's time to start screaming. So I wanted to howl. And this was my howl. And some people are not going to want to listen to it. That's cool.
To hear John Horn's full interview with Darren Aronofsky, click on the player above. To listen to more conversations with filmmakers, musicians and other artists, check out The Frame podcast on Apple Podcasts.