By Christopher Redmond

Mailed on September 12, 2017

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Dear Stanley B. Herman

Dear Stanley,

Congratulations, motherfucker! You just got the best movie credit of the year.

It was no accident, I‘m sure. Getting to play "Fornicator" in Darren Aronofsky‘s super secretive project Mother! is the kind of wink-and-nudge dream casting that an actor will dine out on for the rest of his life. But you‘re clearly a favourite appearance-maker of the director, having showed up in his first film Pi, and his two most notable features: Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan. You‘re his lucky "fucking" charm, which I have to believe is part of the in-joke of your character name.

In a movie where no character gets an actual name, Fornicator is about as good as any.

It‘s all part of the mystery of Mother!, I suppose. Though after seeing the film, I have to believe that it had more to do with the bewilderment of how to market this movie rather than preserving any plot secrets.

After all, the first hour (plus) is painfully straight-forward. A woman is working on a home while her husband struggles to write his next project when a stranger drops by and disrupts their (not so) perfect lives. Sure we get some flash frames and cutaways that suggest something supernatural or surreal, but because the film isn‘t paced like a straight-up horror film, any genre indulgence is delayed to the point of feeling like it‘s denying the audience of simple satisfaction. Jennifer Lawrence does a rather remarkable job of keeping the emotions grounded when reality starts to slip, but by the time it happens we feel like we‘ve been pushing off the climax so long that a satisfying release is never going to come. But it did – at least for me. Even if the pleasure I took felt a little selfish (hey, it happens, right?).

Though I enjoyed the bonkers finale, I may have been distracted by the walkouts I saw – which is not always a sign of failure at a festival as big and demanding as TIFF, but it did seem to reflect a pervasive ennui that permeated a large portion of the middle section of the film. I‘m sure your buddy Darren purposely designed the story as such, like the classic character-based horror films of the 60s and 70s. In fact, the debt owed to Rosemary‘s Baby is one the marketing department has at least embraced. But the questions the film raises never feel compelling enough to tease out the answers. Once the film seems to finally operate in full dream logic, the nightmare becomes complete and the film is taken over by manic energy. But until that point, the obsessive close-ups and claustrophobic set-piecing verges on filmed theatre. Not a criticism usually levelled at Aronofsky, I know.

But this is certainly a different film for him, and even more for Lawrence. I have no idea what kind of commercial appeal it will have, but maybe if you get in front of this thing you can help it out. You know what they say – fornicating sells.



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