The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of mother!
What was your script development process, and what was your reaction to it on first read?
Darren Aronofsky: All of my work outside of filmmaking is environmental work. As a parent, I’m very concerned about the future. I just had a lot of frustration. So I had this idea of trying to make a story about not your mother or my mother, but our mother. This is the mother that gave life to all of us. It’s a very old idea, but a difficult one to imagine. We don’t understand that the largest forest fire in the history is happening in Canada this summer, but we all understand when someone comes over to your house and puts a cigarette out in your carpet. I was thinking about how to tell this story about people and I thought that myths in the Bible would be an interesting way to structure the film because it’s a version of the creation myth that all people are probably familiar with.
Jennifer Lawrence: I met with Darren before the script existed and I loved the ideas about all of these metaphors, and the allegory, and just the environmental message. I grew up in a religious home, so I thought it was incredible to see these biblical themes weaved into the narrative. I read the script and was incredibly disturbed. I was like, “I need to get this out of my home,” and then I realized that’s why it’s a masterpiece.
“I want it to be loved by everyone, but we knew we were throwing a punch at the audience. Some people enjoy that and some people want to punch back.”
The rehearsal process was a serious part in preparing this, can you talk a bit about that phase of pre-production?
Aronofsky: The story I’m going with is that I wrote this script in five days where I had this biblical structure, the allegory. And then I have this home invasion genre, which I thought was a good start because it’s relatable to turn that feeling of having a guest that stays too long into a nightmare. There wasn’t much character in what I wrote, so I took Javier [Bardem] and Jenn to a warehouse in Brooklyn where we taped out the house Dogville-style. They gave the script real character and a relationship. The last two weeks we brought in Michelle [Pfeiffer] , Ed [Harris], Domhnall [Gleeson], and Brian [Gleeson]. We actually shot the entire thing on a video camera and turned it into a two hour version even though there’s no walls, makeup, or costumes. It was an exercise to give us a sense of the movie and experience the flow.
Lawrence: I think it’s unheard of to do that type of rehearsal process for a film. I’m not a big rehearsal person because I don’t find the character that way and I get embarrassed about acting when it’s not one hundred percent necessary. For me, it was very helpful to just talk for hours and break down everything and get used to moving with the camera.
What was the post-production process like?
Aronofsky: The entire movie has 3 shots in it. The camera is either over her shoulder, on her face, or her point of view. There’s no wide shots and for all of the filmmakers here, going back to the edit room without a wide shot or an insert, your editor just wants to kill you. The post process was 53 weeks. The thing that really helped was that Jennifer had to be relatable, so if you didn’t know where she was or what she was doing, the film fell apart. The only clue you have on what to feel is the reaction shot of her. We actually wrote a score for this film with Johann Johannsson and we worked for four and a half months and whenever we put the score on this movie, it fell apart. Eventually Johann turned to me and said, “I don’t think the score needs music because Jenn is the score. You’re leaning in to see what’s feeling, so if you’re given a clue or a hint it hinders or confuses it.” We cut the score, even though it scared the hell out of me to do that.
The relationship mother has with Him is incredible. How did you craft that?
Lawrence: Javier brought a new dimension to our relationship. It would have been so easy to hate Him, which you do at the end. He is incapable of performing if it’s not coming from a real place. He had to find the truth in our love and compassion. It made the relationship more complex because you see why I love him at times and why we love each other, which makes it all more devastating.
Aronofsky: When I first pitched Javier, I said, “you’re playing the bad guy.” Very early on he pushed back and tried be empathetic and sympathetic in every scene. I realized that this was going to be great and add a lot, but I kept reminding him that at one point he’s going to have to twist and be evil. We tried to push it as late as possible.
This film has already received many different reactions. Have either of you heard a point of view that’s incredibly insightful or bizarre?
Lawrence: I think it’s interesting that everyone thinks the movie is about fame. We never made that connection working on it and never had that intention.
Aronofsky: I was clearly talking about worship, but I think by putting Jennifer and Javier in the movie, people lean into the celebrity. There have been all sorts of crazy takes and there’s people that totally get it. I’ve always liked movies that spark conversation and that’s been the best compliment that people are still arguing days later.
Lawrence: I’ve had all of my friends who aren’t movie people watching it and everybody in the kitchen afterwards was arguing and it was ten people talking. Nobody asked me. I’ve never heard anybody have that kind of reaction.
Aronofsky: It is interesting because I want it to be loved by everyone, but we knew we were throwing a punch at the audience. Some people enjoy that and some people want to punch back.