The Atlantic

Mother!'s Theater of Cruelty

Darren Aronofsky’s film, a sensory assault, fits into a grand tradition of art that hopes to shock its audiences out of complacency.
Source: Paramount Pictures

This story contains spoilers through the entirety of mother!

The second act of mother!, Darren Aronofosky’s divisive new film, escalates quickly. In one scene, the character played by Jennifer Lawrence—identified only as “Mother”—is embodying domestic goddesshood, preparing a nursery for her unborn child and serving Pinterest-worthy small plates to her narcissist poet of a husband, simply called “Him” (Javier Bardem). Minutes later, she’s hyperventilating while looters tear her kitchen apart, a rave kicks off in her living room, a strange religious cult forms on the stairwell, refugees get trapped behind wire fences in her entryway, she’s pepper-sprayed in the face by riot police, explosions rattle the house, Kristen Wiig assassinates a group of hostages, and a cop who tries to help Mother has his head blown off by a rifle.

This cinematic segue from a Restoration Hardware catalog into a war zone in a matter of minutes is one of) Mother then gives birth to a baby which is killed and eaten in front of her by the aforementioned sinister cult, also seems to have offended some people. It’s just not what you’d necessarily expect from a major film released by Paramount Pictures starring Lawrence, America’s indubitable sweetheart. But there is a context within which makes perfect sense, and a discipline to which it’s remarkably faithful: Antonin Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty.

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