A biblical allegory disguised as a harrowing psychological thriller – Massachusetts Daily Collegian
Director Darren Aronofsky’s complicated relationship with God
Darren Aronofsky’s “mother”! is a movie I had watched years ago in high school, and while it left me slightly traumatized, I couldn’t exactly figure out what the movie was about. After a recent re-read, I’m confident in saying that I understand this shocking – yet amazing – film much better now. Released in 2017, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, among other well-known names, “mother!” is a surprising and haunting take on religion, the Bible and the environment.
On the surface level, the film is the story of a couple living off the grid. There’s “mother” – Jennifer Lawrence’s unnamed titular character – and her husband “Lui”, played by Javier Bardem. Mother spends her days renovating their home, a Victorian country mansion, while Lui works on his latest novel as a failing writer. One fateful night, a stranger named Man knocks on their door and becomes an unexpected guest for the couple. Unassuming at first, this stranger (played by Ed Harris) brings a host of guests to their home, including his wife, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), and their two sons. The mother grows increasingly frustrated and wonders why he allowed an entire family into their repairman, but she is constantly rejected and eventually the man turns out to be one of his biggest fans.
The introduction to Man and Woman isn’t a plotline that should raise eyebrows, but if one is observant enough (and slightly Bible-savvy), the couple depicts Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, making their two sons Cain and Abel. This portrayal is made evident throughout the film in many ways. For example, in one scene, the mother realizes that the man has a serious wound in his side, exactly where his rib would be. In another scene, the man and woman are exiled after breaking a crystal in his office and are seen making love in a remote room of the house. This represents original sin and the fall of mankind after consuming the forbidden fruit, represented by the crystal of fire in the office of Him.
Meanwhile, the couple’s two sons argue over Man’s will downstairs. The conversation escalates into a heated argument, and in near-perfect synchronization with the Cain and Abel story, the older brother grievously hurts the younger one upon discovering that he will not receive an inheritance when his father dies. In the Bible, God rejects all of Cain’s sacrifices and places Abel on a pedestal, resulting in Cain’s jealousy and his murder of Abel. The film then continues with the older brother fleeing the house, and the couple by his side taking the younger brother to the hospital where he succumbs to his injuries and dies. After they return, more and more guests enter his and his mother’s house to pay their respects to the younger brother, which makes the mother even more frustrated with his hospitality. As the wake turns into a party, the guests take turns sitting on a broken sink, causing it to detach from the wall. The water then pours into the house; a scene that represents the fall of humanity after the death of Abel and then the flood.
Mother grows weary of him with each passing moment, and as she expresses her concern to him, their argument turns into passionate lovemaking. The next morning, the mother announces that she is pregnant with Lui’s child. He is overjoyed and starts working on his novel again, which ends up selling extremely well. Mother prepares for a quiet, romantic dinner with him to celebrate the success of the novel and their child. However, their date once again turns into a chaotic night, as his fans invade their house to congratulate him on the pregnancy. It is at this point that the film moves from the Old Testament to the New Testament, as the mother and Him await the birth of the Messiah.
The mother is tormented in the moments preceding the birth of her child; war, poverty, aggression and other hellish scenarios are happening all around her. As she goes into labor, Lui appears out of the blue and takes his mother to his office, where she gives birth to her baby boy in peace. The metaphor represents how God abandoned the Earth for long stretches before the birth of the Messiah, leaving mankind to fend for themselves no matter how far they had to go. After the birth of their child, Him insists on allowing his fans downstairs to meet the baby, but the mother disagrees. She soon falls asleep and takes the baby to him downstairs, where her devotees worship him on an altar and pass the child around in cult fashion until he is killed. This scene may represent the meaning of communion, as people consume bread and wine (the body and blood of Jesus respectively) and remember what Jesus did on the cross.
The mother wakes up to find her son maimed downstairs and is bewildered beyond belief. She’s crying; moaning and crying all over her house as the mob of people start attacking and beating her for no reason. She is able to flee as He finally intervenes, and the mother enters the basement where a barrel of oil is. Setting it on fire, the mother kills herself alongside the mass upstairs while simultaneously destroying the house. His death can be seen as an allegory for the destruction of our planet (Mother Earth) caused by the emission of fossil fuels. Lawrence’s character as a metaphor for Mother Earth is further reinforced throughout the film, as the mother is frequently overwhelmed and begins to touch the walls of her home. As she presses her hand against the walls, she witnesses visions of a beating heart, slowing down and getting worse with each vision she has. The walls of his house also begin to crack, break and even bleed, reinforcing the idea that the Earth as well as the environment is dying every day due to overpopulation. The film ends with him removing his mother’s beating heart from his chest; forge a new crystal and thus create a “new” mother. This ending informs us very clearly of director Aronofsky’s relationship with God, as He is portrayed as a character who desires nothing more than love and admiration throughout this film – no matter how it is to be achieved. . Further, the birth of a new Mother Earth declares that her true purpose is indefinite creation.
These allegories are not surprising when we know that they find their origin in the complicated relationship of Darren Aronofsky with God. As an enthusiastic atheist and environmentalist, viewers can assume that this film, at its core, is a representation of Aronofsky’s view on religion. With an antagonist (Him) who is constantly absent in most heartbreaking scenes, God (for Aronofsky) is a figure who was never there for him when he needed him most. The lack of care and attention for his mother represents the same lack that Aronofsky felt for much of his childhood, making him a staunch atheist to this day.
Although this film received a mixed reception due to its ambiguity and controversial themes, I personally enjoyed it from start to finish. Of course, it’s a horrifying film; with more than graphic images and haunting music; yet it was extremely interesting. It’s a very unique story, and while Aronofsky clearly states his position on these issues, he never makes his viewers feel the same way. It imposes no perspective on its audience, and it simply exists as a critique of religion, the Bible, and the environment. My analysis may not be entirely correct, but that’s the beauty of a film as ambiguous as this; he really leaves a lot to interpretation and his subjectivity is really something to admire.
Ashviny Kaur can be contacted at [email protected]