Finally, we can talk about mother!
After months of secrecy—and some intriguing marketing campaigns—we're finally learning more about Darren Aronofsky's latest film, mother! The movie made its North American premiere at Toronto Film Festival this past weekend, surrounded by much buzz and confusion. And the following press conference did little to clarify. The running adage seems to be: it's just an experience you have to have for yourself.
Well, since the rest of us can't see mother! until its theatrical release September 15th, here's as much as we could learn from the TIFF conference with Aronofsky, the film's star Jennifer Lawrence, and its two producers Ari Handel and Scott Franklin. The panel was moderated by Indiewire's Eric Kohn. Below are the key takeaways we could glean about mother! from the reticent filmmaker and his accomplices. You can view the entire press conference here.
Aronofsky's not revealing anything...
"The whole campaign has been about mystery," Aronofsky said with a hint of glee, "and I think the film plays out very much like a mystery. As you're watching it, you think you're watching one thing, and then it shifts and becomes something else. I like that, so I don't want to give too much away about what it is. Encourage people to avoid spoilers, and if you're up for the roller coaster ride, come take it. "
But Jennifer Lawrence is
"It's allegorical," Lawrence attempted to explain, "it's these huge metaphors that are universal, biblical, and [Aronofsky has] created a narrative through them and placed everything into this, under the house. It was just incredible and unique; I'd never heard anything like it."
Despite what Aronofsky says, Lawrence thinks it's okay to go into the film with a bit of context. "I don't think the allegory is a spoiler. I think it really aids you."
Could Aronofsky have pushed it too far this time?
"That line [of how far to push people] is always a tricky line, and there will always be people that think I cross it, and there will be other people that don't think it's enough." Aronofsky said, "All my films always have that. I had a big debate with the studio in Black Swan over the scene where Natalie's legs snap back."
"It's a very intense ride and only take it if you want to see something very new and very different."
"When I saw it with an audience here in Toronto back in 2010, I remember the gasps and the screams from the crowd, and the cries, and all the weird reactions. For me, that was a great reward. More than any film I've done, we've gotten really close to that line, and really are pushing it. The film does come with a warning. It's a very intense ride and only take it if you want to see something very new and very different."
Aronofsky wrote the script in just five days
"[The idea] was just sort of haunting me. And I had this 5-day weekend where I was all alone in my house," the director described, "I suddenly thought about Genesis and Revelations and that gave me all these ideas for structuring it. And that allowed me to unleash the mythology onto this allegory and it just poured out."
"I showed it to [Franklin and Handel] and they were like 'it's crazy but there's something there, we should do it.' And then I showed Jennifer and she was in."
They tried to re-work the script several times, but something about that original draft was the key. "There was some kind of weird dream logic that I think captured the emotion of that moment. [Handel] calls it impotent rage, I don't like to be called impotent, I call it restless rage. And I think that's kind of what it's all about."
But he rehearsed it for three months
Having any rehearsal time at all, let alone three months, is almost unheard of in the film industry these days. So for the actors, it was an exceptional opportunity to get to know their characters. "I've never done anything like it," said Lawrence. They had to rehearse more than just performance. The whole film relies on a delicate play between camera and actor that demanded tireless planning.
"The whole film is shot either over [Lawrence's] shoulder, on her face or what she's looking at," Aronofsky explained.
"We had to learn this choreography with the cameramen," said Lawrence. So together they would walk through a chalk outline they'd made of the house. "By the time we got to the house, we all kind of flowed as one."
"Sixty-six minutes of the two-hour film is a close up of Jennifer, and you're never bored, you're never claustrophobic, and it's all because of her."
It took some getting used to, she said, in a statement that might make David O'Russell cringe, "I've never been on a movie that has a language with the camera."
More than that, she had to get accustomed to having the camera "in [her] damn face all the time." According to Aronofsky, "Sixty-six minutes of the two-hour film is a close up of Jennifer, and you're never bored, you're never claustrophobic, and it's all because of her."
Lawrence grew more than she dreamed, but doesn't want to work with Aronofsky again (or does she?)
One audience member asked what Lawrence had learned from her experience on the film, considering it was one of her first times working with a new director in over five years.
"This movie kind of pulled me apart and put me back together," she responded. "Working with Darren, it was just a completely different character from everything that I've ever done and it was just inside me. So, I don't even know where to begin on what I learned from this movie. I learned to create different aspects of a personality that don't really exist. I wouldn't have been able to do it if it weren't for Darren, I wouldn't have been able to access or find that."
When asked what they might work together on next, Aronofsky laughed. "She told me she would never work with me again." But it doesn't seem to be a real rift between the two. "That was just when I was healing after the movie," Lawrence shot back.
Aronofsky thinks all movies look the same, so he shot in 16mm
Despite the fact that "barely anyone processes it anymore," according to Aronofsky, he was determined to shoot the film in 16mm.
"I think the problem with all these beautiful [digital] cameras are that the images end up very, very similar and everything's starting to look exactly the same."
"With 16, you have an immediate patina, an immediate abstraction, an immediate thing that makes it a piece of work."
"But with 16," he continued, "you have an immediate patina, an immediate abstraction, an immediate thing that makes it a piece of work." He remembers feeling like the whole thing "feels like slightly burnt butter or the surface of a really good tiramisu." Whatever dessert it feels like to you, the point is, it's different. "It has a feeling that nothing else there in the marketplace has."
"We might've gone too far," Aronofsky added, "but we definitely made a different ride in the amusement park."
Lawrence said yes before reading a word
"[Darren] told me his ideas and I thought that they were just brilliant and unique and challenging so I was immediately in." Lawrence enthused, "I've been a fan of his for years. I think he's bold and brave." That doesn't mean she didn't find the script disturbing though. "Once I got a script, I read it and threw it across the room and told him he had severe psychological problems, but it's a masterpiece. No, I didn't have any hesitations."
The title means everything
"I think the first six letters I wrote were mother," said Aronofsky. "I just typed that in at the beginning in lower case, before I started anything, and I just let that sit. And then I put the exclamation point and it really became part of it."
No one's picked up on it yet, but there's a reason for the lower case lettering. "If you look closely at the movie you will figure out the reason. All the clues are there."
"But it was always about mother. That was always the goal," the filmmaker continued. "To tell the story of not your mother, not my mother, but our mother, a mother that has given us all life, and to tell the history of humanity with mother in an allegory."