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A couple's relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence. (From Paramount’s official synopsis)

Writer/director Darren Aronofsky spent years culling a reputation as a subversive element within the Hollywood system – flirting with mainstream acceptance, but rarely getting big budget projects off the ground. Personally, I’ve always found his work quite genuine and, for lack of a better word, ‘simple.’ Even his most visceral and eccentric films, like Requiem for a Dream (2000) and The Fountain (2006), are openly emotional and built around simple, straight-forward themes. For this reason, I’ve always found it strange that his detractors like to call him ‘pretentious,’ as if unusual subject matter and editing techniques are obnoxiously overambitious. I’d even argue that his most popular (and arguably best) movie, Black Swan (2010), was also his most ambiguous and blatantly representative work. Well, until now. By most estimations, mother! is the movie that people kept claiming Aronofsky had been making for almost two decades – a mean, metaphor-heavy, nightmare of a film that ties together the disparate elements of his career, while also feeling like it could’ve been a direct follow-up to the pure, arthouse exploitation of his first film, Pi (1998).

I’m not really prepared to write about the film with any authority so soon after watching it, but, given the film’s brutality and heavy-handed approach to allegory, it’s easy to understand why mother! was so divisive. Personally, this kind of thing usually works for me and I found that Aronofsky’s on-the-nose commentary (mostly) fit the film’s spiralling, fever dream structure. The inconvenient situations and blatantly rude behavior slowly escalates into violence and, eventually, a complete chaos and nonsense. Despite the awkward and overstated ‘meaning’ behind events (i.e. the cruel things that the unwanted guests say or the pronounced biblical implications of the plot and characters), Aronofsky is incredibly successful in his surface layer goal to tie the audience in knots until their back teeth are swimming in bile. Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan both generally qualify as horror films and, similarly, mother! sees Aronofsky embracing the cinematic devices that audiences usually tie to ‘horror,’ such as jump scares and outrageous violence. It matches the subjective nightmare quality of those other near-horror movies in a new and unique way that still feels distinctly Aronofsky-esque. On the other hand, mother! also extends and expands its themes so far that it swerves into parody. Intended or not, this impromptu satire actually fits the modus operandi of earlier surrealist filmmakers, like Buñuel, Jodorowsky, and Lynch.



As far as I know, Aronofsky has not been a particularly outspoken proponent of film over digital formats, but he has continued shooting on film throughout his career. According to specs, mother! was shot using a mix of 35mm, 16mm, and Redcode RAW digital formats (Red Epic Dragon cameras). further describes the cinematographic process as being a 2K master of film sources with the digital format accounting for the ‘visual effects plates.’ I’m no expert (obviously), but that seems to indicate that, despite grading, FX, and compositing, the bulk of the original footage was shot on 16mm. The grainy and soft look of this particularly dark 2.40:1, 1080p transfer and some behind the scenes of the crew operating 16mm rigs verifies the assumption. All of the transfer’s softness, dotty discolouration, and general smokiness is very clearly intended, which makes it difficult to ‘review’ the Blu-ray’s image quality. Details, image separation, and clarity are all top-notch considering exactly what Aronofsky and cinematographer Matthew Libatique (who has worked with the director on all but one of his films) were going for. The golden-brown palette is consistent and appropriately dreadful.


mother! comes fitted with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, though this review pertains to the core Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track. With its reputation for artsy-fartsiness, one might assume that this would be an understated mix and, while it sometimes defaults to stunning, dry silence, its experimental use of sound actually makes it one of the more aggressive tracks I’ve heard this year. The solitary house environment acts as an echo chamber for screaming voices, crunching wood, and thundering footsteps. For the most part, mother! foregoes any form of traditional music for a pseudo-musical sound design. Apparently, composer Jóhann Jóhannsson wrote a score, but he and Aronofsky decided not to use it and, instead collaborated with sound designer Craig Henighan to create a more abstract aural environment. The lack of music is quite striking and helps to create contrast between the naturalistic early sequences and the ‘crowded’ latter act.



  • mother! The Downward Spiral (29:51, HD) – The cast & crew discuss the making-of the film, from script development and casting, to location, production/set design, location, cinematography, and orchestrating the chaotic climax, complete with raw behind-the-scenes footage.
  • The Makeup FX of mother! (6:45, HD) – FX designer Adrien Morot discusses building robot babies, shot-gunned heads, toilet monsters, and burn makeup.



mother!’s ambition and dedication to its wacky, over-the-top allegories is appealing to me as is its rolling anxiety attack filmmaking style. It definitely won’t appeal to everyone, though, especially those that notice it isn’t entirely clever, once its metaphors are fully revealed. I’m not sure if I was supposed to find the film so funny, either, but I am not going to count that against it. Paramount’s Blu-ray represents the rough, (mostly) 16mm footage nicely, has an impressive Dolby Atmos soundtrack, and features two short, but informative behind-the-scenes featurettes.



*Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.