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mother! is, without a doubt, a fascinating and disturbing film on multiple levels. This obviously subjective statement transcends all the controversy surrounding the ever-interesting Darren Aronofsky, both the polarization of the audience and the critics, as well as the booing received at the Venice Film Festival and the undesirable “F” rating obtained at CinemaScore. Let’s uncover its meaning, and to do so, we need to explore the interpretations and the origin of the film.
Its beautiful use of light and texture, its incredible and intelligent camera and space work, its fantastic performances, or its unique atmosphere are some of the reasons that make the film starring Jennifer Lawrence one of the most intriguing experiences of the year 2017.
However, all this is slightly overshadowed by the film’s soul: the multiple subtexts that hide its passages disguised as conventional horror scenes.
There are several interpretations and analogies that can be extracted from Mother!, due to its rich repertoire of allegories, some of which are more inspiring than others. Each viewer is his own world and will read the entire film, in one way or another according to their own sensibilities.
However, I leave you with the three that I have managed to glimpse, including the official one of the director. It goes without saying that, from this point on, there will be SPOILERS.
The Simplest Reading
The author’s ego and the muse’s mistreatment
Of all the possible readings, the most basic – and least demanding – that can be given to Mother! and its evident metaphorical intention is centered on the most mundane relationship possible – surrealism aside – between the character of Javier Bardem and that of Jennifer Lawrence, representing the egomaniacal creator and his faithful companion, muse and devoted lover respectively.
Exploring the film from this perspective deprives a large part of its iconography, and the rest of the symbols can be readapted in favor of this proposal.
In this way, we would follow the suffering of Lawrence’s devoted character, always in the shadow of a husband who squeezes every last drop of his effort and blind love with the only goal in mind of culminating his creation.
The work of Javier Bardem’s character – Him – would be represented, besides in his poetry book, in the son, he has with Jennifer Lawrence’s – Mother -, a miracle conceived between the two that the poet takes as his own and, later, offers it to his followers who literally devour him without taking into consideration anything else but the work itself and the idol he has been given.
In spite of the horror lived by Mother and her sacrifice for Him, reflected by gasoline and fire that end up consuming her by her own will, the muse still has the last token of love to offer her in a metaphor as crude as effective: she gives him her heart. The artist, with selfish spirit and unlimited ambition, collects the offering, generating a new source of inspiration – a new muse – after taking advantage of Mother.
The Most Obvious Reading
The Bible according to Aronofsky
If we pay attention to the credit titles of Mother! we will discover that all the characters appear written in small letters with the exception of Javier Bardem, whose name, – Him – is written with the first letter in capital letters. This only reinforces the more obvious reading of Aronofsky’s work, which is only a two-hour interpretation of the biblical book of Genesis.
In this case, Bardem would be none other than God, a creator whose work ends up escaping from his hands. The Garden of Eden that symbolizes the home he shares with Jennifer Lawrence – of which we will speak later – receives the first visit in the form of an Ed Harris that gives life to the equivalent of Adam, the first man. Behind him, and after a scene in which a wound is revealed in the area of his ribs, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eve, the first woman, appears.
This “beautiful” biblical picture would not be complete without a forbidden fruit. In Mother!, this element is not in the form of an appetizing apple, but of a mysterious crystal stone that completely obsesses the character of Pfeiffer.
Despite Him and Mother’s insistence that they stay away from her, it does not take long for the fragile stone to be shattered by the guest couple, thus unleashing the beginning of the debacle of the idyllic home.
As it could not be otherwise, and following what has been seen in the sanguinary scriptures, the double incorporation ends in tragedy, when one of the two brothers kills the other with a blow to the head, fruit of envy, and a confrontation with his father.
The chaos generated by the situation ends up leading to something practical for Him, which overcomes his writer’s block and ends up culminating his longed-for creation. His new poetry book is finished and his wife, after several dialogues alluding to it throughout the story, is pregnant, a fact that marks the mid-point of the script.
An ellipsis places us approximately nine months after what has happened so far. Jennifer Lawrence’s character is in an advanced state of gestation, his book is being a tremendous success and everything seems to be back to normal and calm in the couple’s particular Garden of Eden.
The stability is broken again when hundreds of the poet’s followers burst into the room and end up unleashing chaos and violence in curious parallelism with the “fall of man” in the Bible.
In the midst of the horror, the character of Jennifer Lawrence gives birth to what is literally the son of God, leading to one of the most controversial and horrifying scenes of Mother!. He decides to satisfy the clamor of his faithful, crowded in the halls and rooms of the house, who ask to see the newborn.
The request turns into a horrifying moment in which the mob breaks the baby’s neck and then devours it; a clear analogy to the bread and wine that represent the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
This is probably the last biblical metaphor we find on the tape. Nevertheless, the reading we have just explored leaves a great loose end, and that corresponds to the following question:
Who does the character of Jennifer Lawrence represent in all this accumulation of references?
The Official Reading
Aronofsky and Mother Nature
The answer to this last and great question is found in the explanation that Darren Aronofsky himself gives about his own film. In it, he states that Mother! is a story about Mother Nature – Lawrence – told through her eyes, adding that the film uses the Bible only as a structure to tell the story, and not as a key element at the plot level.
“There are all kinds of biblical elements, but it is the structure of the film that draws from the Bible, using it as a mechanism to analyze how humans have lived here on Earth. Yet it was also meant to be ambiguous because that’s not a story; it’s more of a structural element. There are a lot of details, Easter eggs and things that are interconnected, and I think that’s where the fun lies in the film.”
Regarding the most basic reading, centered on the relationship between muse and creator, Aronofsky states the following:
“People are capturing the traditional marriage between the muse and the creator by suddenly being invaded by all these external forces and the terror that this generates. But then everything goes haywire in the film, and unless you get the feeling that we’re talking about other things or you allow yourself to get in the car, you’re going to resist it and you’re not going to have a good trip.”
Finally, he talks about the cyclical structure of the film and the direction of its last turn:
“My first instinct when I first wrote it was that there would be that twist at the end, that twist is like, ‘Oh God, it doesn’t end and this guy is getting more and more narcissistic, it will never end. I thought of it as another twist on the character and the themes. This doesn’t fit perfectly with the metaphor of the film, but I think that’s where the human story takes over from the metaphor.“
Everything I mentioned before corresponds to what appears in the Bible. But then who is Jennifer Lawrence in the story? And why does she become the protagonist of the movie if she does not appear in the book? As Lawrence herself says, I am the mother!
She represents nature, the true creator of life, and the generator of everything we know, yet she is the great forgotten one in history. The tortured, abused, suffocated by our own selfishness and greed.
At first, we watch as her home begins to be occupied, without asking permission and without any consideration. The Earth expropriated by strangers, who abuse and wear it down. And Nature herself feels unsettled by what is happening in her own home.
We see how with Adam and Eve it feels uncomfortable, with Cain and Abel frightened, with the overpopulation overwhelmed and with the flood relieved to the point of begetting a child of its own. But the decadence begins again: wars, famine, and terrorism in their own home, in the paradise that they had built.
Like a mother whose most precious good has been taken away, Nature destroys itself by bringing about its own apocalypse. And all that is known explodes like a volcano full of rage.
If we take this observation and we return to the biblical aspects, we can clearly observe how the world begins to massify, filling the home with strangers to the point that they destroy part of the house, flooding the kitchen itself. A clear reference to Noah’s Ark.
The wrath of God appears expelling the intruders from the abode. But after a period of peace and harmony, Bardem writes a book that inspires thousands of people.
They immediately start looking for him. And so it is that religion serves as a guide and God becomes an admired and revered being, ‘the Poet’ of life.
And when it seems that peace is restored to the house, the couple takes the opportunity to enlarge the family. Suddenly the house is full of people again, between people who want God dead and those who protect him. Fanaticism has arrived, religions are looking for their own savior.
And God gives his only son to men, who tear him to pieces and eat his flesh and drink his blood (a very explicit scene in the movie). And people go crazy. Finally, the Apocalypse erases all trace of the known humanity.
Finding the Origin and End
The brief conclusion of oneself
The film starts exactly as it ends. God puts the heart of the Earth in the destroyed home and everything begins to sprout again. Life emerges again in the midst of death. But we can see that the actress who plays the mother is no longer Jennifer Lawrence, but another young woman who wakes up again in her marital bed.
Up to that point, Aronofsky gives us a lesson in talent, showing a changing nature, which transforms and resurfaces opening its way. But it will never be exactly the same. While God remains perennial, giving rise to life again and again as a poet who is dedicated to observing what nature creates and engenders.
Despite being a strong advocate of Mother!, I have been arguing that, in addition to its value as a feature film itself, the best thing the film has to offer is the ability to give rise to eternal conversations after viewing it, in which the audience contributes their point of view about what they have just witnessed. This, fortunately, is becoming a kind of author’s stamp of a creator like Darren Aronofsky, whose filmography may or may not be liked, but what it achieves by far is not leaving anyone indifferent.
The production team of the movie built a house all the way up in Montreal, Canada, twice. “The first time, we built just the first floor out in a field, in a beautiful field,” Aronofsky said. “That allowed us to do all the daylight sequences, and we shot those in order.”
In the story, the mother is seen drinking the yellow powder whenever she’s stressed or anxious, but when she becomes pregnant later in the film, she flushes what’s left down the toilet. It seems likely that the yellow powder is meant to be a Kava-like drug or root. Something natural, yet potent, with unexpected and unexplained side-effects that could cause Mother to become paranoid throughout the film.
There’s a frog, which appears briefly in the film, and biblically represents “unclean spirits in the sight of God.” Then, there’s the mystery lighter, which also appears on the film’s second illustrated poster, and which reappears throughout the film and is the key to Lawrence’s eventual emancipation in the film.
The movie serves as a metaphor for environmental disasters. It also delves deeply into spiritual metaphor and man’s relationship with an arrogant God.
The crystal represents God containing Mother’s essence and confining it. The crystal is arguably a physical embodiment of Science vs. Religion, Nature vs. Industry, or simply put, Her vs. Him.
The director was “raised culturally Jewish”, but there was very little spiritual attendance in the temple by him.