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dir. Darren Aronofsky
reviewed by Dakota Drobnicki

I’m not really huge on Darren Aronofsky’s work; I did love me some Black Swan back when that came out, but Requiem For A Dream for example, I understand why people love it but it never quite resonated with me personally. Not to mention that I’ve never seen Pi or The Fountain or even Noah— crucify me if need be, fellow film heads. I was always more the Argento type than the Aronofsky type.

As I went into his newest film here, I’d ignored the thriller-y spin of its trailers and whatever hype it’d gained in critic circles, with one notable exception: it’d gained a sensational “F” rating from CinemaScore, a service that polls viewers as they come out of theatrical screenings… somewhere in this country? I don’t know where these samples are collected from, but it’s apparently the same regions where audiences gave the utterly offensive Jem & The Holograms a collective “B+”, so it’s not somewhere I’d really like to be. I already take enough umbrage with people completely dependent on Rotten Tomatoes scores, but I digress…

Jennifer Lawrence plays the girlfriend of Javier Bardem (all actors will be referred to by their actual names since none of their characters have any), a blocked-up writer with a cult following. Lawrence has been helping Bardem restore his childhood home, once burned away in a fire, in order to help him find inspiration to write. While Lawrence desires a tranquil, quiet life with Bardem, he habitually invites intrusive and rude guests that mess with Lawrence’s work and constantly stress her out, the first example of which is a family headed by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer. The situation spirals further and further out of control when he impregnates Lawrence, and subsequently regains his inspiration to write, all while ignoring Lawrence’s frequent requests for a peaceful environment.

I emphasize the stress angle because this movie is easily the most stress-inducing thing I’ve seen this year, a lot of it from feeling awful for what Bardem is inadvertently putting Lawrence through. Aronofsky brings Lawrence’s emotional state to the forefront by rarely placing the camera more than a few feet away from her during any given scene, sharing an intimate point of view as the world she crafted for the two of them slips out of her control. It makes the movie so much more heartbreaking than it would’ve been with more traditional cinematography.

The first poster that came out for it depicted Lawrence holding her own ripped out heart, which implied a rather gruesome film was on the horizon. As the first 90 minutes or so went on with a calm dread to them, with only a few horrifying sequences here and there, I felt deceived on that aspect, despite still enjoying what I got quite a bit. Is this why audiences didn’t take to this film, I wondered? Is it that, or is it that casual audiences who follow J-Law typically just don’t take to artsier fare?

Then that last half hour kicked in… and I understood.

I had a walkout in my screening from a sizable portion of my audience. I’ll admit I was audibly snarky to them about claiming it “the most f**ked up movie they’d ever seen” as they left, blissfully unaware of the decades of extreme cinema before it.

For casual viewers walking in off Lawrence’s marquee appeal though? What a massive shock this thing would be. Imagine what the audiences of screenings in Utah are like…

Me? I loved it.

Not just the insane finale that I’m refusing to detail so that you’ll hopefully go see this movie out of curiosity, but all of the buildup to it, too. Lawrence and Bardem have wonderful chemistry as a couple, as do Harris and Pfeiffer. Even through all of the stressful situations Lawrence has to endure thanks to Bardem, he shows himself as loving and understanding for the most part.

The deliberately confused execution of the film’s descent into chaos is a massive mark in its favor, too. Again, that goes back to how the film’s shot, just about from Lawrence’s point of view. I know I was confused when I saw Kristen Wiig popping shots in tied-up hostages for no apparent reason, but it was a striking image burned into my corneas all the same. (Is it a spoiler if I mention a weird scene that doesn’t seem to affect the plot any?)

If there’s any movie from this year I’d double-bill it with, it’d be the underrated A Cure For Wellness— both absolutely bonkers, gruesome, and with long stretches of beautifully executed tranquility. Now, I feel like I actually do need to give Aronofsky’s filmography a fairer shake.