Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. USA, 2017. Protozoa Pictures. Screenplay by Darren Aronofsky. Cinematography by Matthew Libatique. Produced by Scott Franklin, Ari Handel. Music by Tony Finno. Production Design by Philip Messina. Costume Design by Danny Glicker. Film Editing by Andrew Weisblum. Toronto International Film Festival 2017.
A happily married couple live in a remote country home, the husband (Javier Bardem) a poet with writers block whose much younger wife (Jennifer Lawrence) is content to spend her days painting and renovating the house after it was destroyed in a fire. The random appearance of a traveler (Ed Harris) who mistook their place for a bed and breakfast is an awkward intrusion that Lawrence is willing to endure until his nosy, fabulously catty wife (a radiant Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up and pushes her discomfort over the edge. Lawrence’s concerns over her precarious physical state and her Charlotte Perkins Gilman-esque ruminations on the walls and floors of the house only become more dire when the visiting couple’s sons (real-life brothers Brian and Domhnall Gleeson) show up and commit reckless violence upon the place. The film then moves into an even more eccentric second act that sees Lawrence’s regained peace ruined again when members of Bardem’s devoted fanbase show up and strangers begin collecting through her home in large numbers. The melee they cause, and the speed by which the madness accelerates, reaches levels of insanity that make the viewer wonder if are we watching something real, a dream or something in between? Director Darren Aronofsky’s skill with amping up the tension from a low, nerve-wracking hum to a terrifying, shrill peal of alarm doesn’t fail him here, this film has all the energy and grotesquerie you loved in Black Swan but, this time, the narrative is pushed aside in favour of a pure sense of frustration and rage. The struggle of an accomodating woman’s energy holding their ground against the gale force of the male ego is smartly explored in the first half before the second movement looks at the sacrifices made by those who share their lives with creative people; it’s possible we’re watching Aronofsky apologize to his loved ones by placing them within his own nightmares. As recreations of dreamlike states go, I’ve rarely seen it pulled off with more technical skill, but the film is more emotionally involving when the uncanny situations still bear a distinct resemblance to reality in the first act; by the time you reach the unapologetic devotion to absurdity in the climax (imagine Ben Wheatley without the politics, or something made for those who thought Funny Games wasn’t crazy enough), it’s hard to feel vulnerable for a character whose situations aren’t the least bit convincing, and any appreciation for the film at that point becomes purely aesthetic. Lawrence is in supreme command as the main character, her quiet revelations and perfectly calibrated subtlety providing beautiful groundwork for the moments when she lets her primal rages out in the humorous conclusion, the best performance by a woman trying to give her husband the benefit of the doubt since Joan Fontaine in Rebecca.