Darren Aronofsky tends to labor for years on his screenplays. But with mother! things went a little differently. “I was always jealous of singer-songwriters who can pop out a song in a couple of days or a few hours,” Aronofsky says. “I had this idea, and I felt it rise up in my head. I took a long weekend and got into this fever dream and just pumped it out. [Laughs] We’ll see what the results are. It’s been an interesting way to approach it — trying to capture a single emotion and trying to tell that two hour story out of that emotion.”
The idea is one he still struggles to talk about — “I’m still figuring it out!” — but we do know it centers on a married couple (Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem) whose relationship is tested when another couple (Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris) visits. “It has home-invasion elements and is definitely a thriller,” Aronofsky allows. “It is closer to Black Swan in spirit than anything I have done in a while.”
Shooting (in 16mm) took place last year in Montreal — “As soon as you get Jennifer Lawrence, you have a movie,” Aronofsky says with a laugh — after a long rehearsal period in Brooklyn. (“It’s rare and a luxury,” says the director.) Bardem had been following Aronofsky’s career closely since his 1998 debut, Pi. “I remember so well seeing that movie,” says Bardem. “It blew me away. And Requiem for a Dream was the same. I was so impressed by the filmmaking, by the quality of the images but mostly by their performances and that strange line between fiction and reality. I love that.” The young woman playing his wife onscreen is one he also has a history with—they were once seated together at a film festival when Lawrence was a then unknown promoting Winter’s Bone. “I just remember she was so young and she was so funny! She was making jokes about the show, about everything, we all were laughing a lot. I hadn’t seen Winter’s Bone yet but then I did, after that night, and I was really impressed by the quality and the depth. All of this is to say when I heard Jennifer Lawrence was in the cast, I was very happy to be working with her. She is one of a kind and I truly admire her.” Did he ever think he’d one day be playing her on-screen husband? Bardem bursts out laughing. “No! Obviously no. Not even when I was shooting could I really imagine it.”
In the scene above, the couple hosts a large gathering at their house. “You can see the tension in their relationship as it’s pulled by all these forces,” Aronofsky says. “Jen and Javier are experiencing things in different ways.” The trailer, released last week, certainly capitalizes on that tension. (And, ushering in the age of a Pfeiffer-sance, a good look at the mysterious character Michelle Pfeiffer plays. “She’s exceptional,” says Aronofsky. “It’s a very brave and bold performance. She brought her A-game.”)
But what is, you know, actually happening? “The best thing about this film will be the surprise of it,” Aronofsky insists. “It’s an intense journey and it’s definitely the biggest roller coaster in the park. Only get on it if you really want to do the loop-the-loop.” Bardem agrees with the vow of silence. “We all know every f—ing thing all the time,” he says. “That’s good for some things and bad for others. We have to keep this mystery going if we can.” Mystery accomplished.
mother! opens in theaters Sept. 15.