So what the Hell happened in mother! anyway? If the Cinemascore of F is any indication, most people walked out of Darren Aronofsky’s latest movie more confused than enlightened. mother! looked like a simple thriller where Jennifer Lawrence’s marriage to Javier Bardem is invaded by uninvited guests and dark secrets in her old creepy house. While mother! is still technically that, it is also much, much more. Aronofsky is not an easy filmmaker and even with some explanations, mother! is a complicated mystery.
mother! is three things at once. It is the thriller you were promised. But it is also an intricate allegory and damning satire of Judeo-Christian religion. And then below that, it is a deeply personal movie about the struggle of an artist juggling his fan base and his loved ones. So the question becomes: which layer is the most important?
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Who is Who, What is What? A mother! Glossary
The surface script is clearly not the whole story. The characters are not given names, the movie goes completely off the rails in the third act, and mother! is a weird film. Nearly everything in the movie is an allegory. Jennifer Lawrence explicitly gave away most of the symbolism in an interview with The Telegraph. Here’s the “real” cast break-down:
Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) = Mother Earth. Mother loves her husband and wants nothing more than to live with “Him” in peace. His fan base (humanity) invades and destroy her house. Him ignores Mother more and more for his fans and betrays her to them.
Him (Javier Bardem) = God. Him describes himself as “I am I”, quoting Exodus 3:14, when God describes himself as “I am that I am.” Him opens the film by breathing light into a crystal, i.e., “let there be light”. He loves humanity and loves Mother. But he neglects and abuses Mother for his art. Aronofsky sees God as an artist, a classic metaphor. However, this God’s art is selfish, and his love is twisted.
The House = Mother. Mother and the House are in fact one being. When Mother feels ill, the House turns back into ruin. The beating heart she feels through the walls is her own. As Him betrays her again and again, her heart darkens and rots.
Man (Ed Harris) = Adam. He is the first fan, the first human.
Woman (Michele Pfieffer) = Eve. Michele Pfieffer’s character introduces sex and sin. Woman breaks into Him’s study and destroys his cherished crystal. Him then seals away the room from the strangers (humanity) forever. Humanity is banished from the “Garden of Eden”.
The Brothers (Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson) = Cain and Abel. The younger brother murders the older. “Cain” is then left to wander the wilderness as he does in the Book of Genesis. In a fun twist, Domnhall and Brian Gleeson are brothers in real life.
Him’s Writing = Religion. Mother’s joy and Man and Woman’s pain inspire Him to write his latest work. But while the writing inspires the strangers, it offers them no real salvation. It only drives them into a frenzy of consumption.
The Baby = Jesus. This Christ figure is just an innocent victim of a mad fanbase. The strangers tear him apart and eat his flesh in a hideous satire of the Eucharist. Nobody is saved by this Christ’s death.
The entire film is a repeating cycle. The crystal is the heart of the previous Mother. After Mother destroys herself, Him takes her heart and makes a new home with a new Mother (Laurence Leboeuf). Seemingly nothing has been learned. But Him will use the drama of the next cycle to write another work.
Director as God
One can go dizzy digging through the levels of parable and metaphor. But the little details are not as important in mother!; there’s yet another layer to all of this.
Darren Aronofsky seems terrified that he is Javier Bardem’s Him. Aronofsky identifies with Him but puts the POV on Mother and makes his stand-in character the villain. Yeah, the director is comparing himself to God. But this is not a positive comparison. In real life, Aronofsky is probably not so monstrous. However, mother! is about the director’s darkest fears, which are valid.
They’re both middle-aged male artists. They’re both in a relationship with a younger woman, Jennifer Lawrence, who Aronofsky started dating in real life when they met on the mother! set. Both the director and his character can use their age, their gender, and even their art as a way mistreat their partners. Him doesn’t beat Mother, but he does ignore her and abuses her with a million tiny dismissals.
Artist as Monster
The artist creates — it’s what he does — but his art is also destructive. Him forces Mother to share their lives with a rabble of deranged fans. All through the movie, Him neglects Mother by doing things without her consent. But he’s worse than that: he’s an emotional vampire. Him cannot inspire himself but instead has to steal emotions for his writing. Him steals Mother’s joy and siphons it into a poem then betrays his family by feeding them to his fan base.
Aronofsky views too much fandom as madness. Fan bases devour the art they obsess over, and in mother!, that is made horrifyingly literal. Him feeds off his fans like he feeds off Mother. He needs their one-sided unconditional love. Sadly he needs it more than he needs a real relationship with his family.
Mother cannot live with a leech like this in her life. And so, the world is destroyed.
Layers of Truth
So which layer is true? Is mother! the surreal thriller? Is it a biting heresy? Or could it be a caution against emotional abuse? The thing is, “Mother!” isn’t so easy that you can just point to one layer. It’s simple to decode the Biblical references, yet without the human drama, mother! would have no meaning.
You can spend hours tearing through the symbolism and cross-checking Bible verses to find what the yellow liquid means or who Kristin Wiig represents (The Devil? Elijah? Nebuchadnezzar?). But what really matters is the relationship between our two leads: how an incomplete ugly man destroyed the woman who supported him.
mother! is not an easy movie. But where a good movie will merely satisfy you, a great movie will leave you thinking for days after. Don’t ever be afraid to let a movie confuse or challenge you — it’s what great art should do.