This week marks the release of Mother! on DVD and Blu-ray. It coincides with the announcement of the Razzies. Where both Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem have been nominated for worst actor awards for their work on the film. Writer and director Darren Aronofsky also got a nomination for worst director. Now, it’s clearly a divisive film. It left both audiences and critics confounded. I, personally, loved the movie. Pushing the boundaries of what popular film could be. It’s not perfect, but the craft behind it is unquestionable. I saw it in the cinema, and was completely gripped. It’s a film which demands the audiences attention. You get out of the movie what you bring to it. In our new Deep Cuts feature we will be taking a deeper look at the films which spark the most conversations. If you haven’t seen Mother! yet, do so now, as there will be spoilers ahead.
Why has Mother! received such harsh criticism? One reason is that audiences were sold a horror film starring the biggest female star in Hollywood. There was talk of it being a spiritual sequel to Rosemary’s Baby, and whilst it was clearly influenced by that movie, and has elements of horror, it wasn’t the film that the audiences were sold. Another reason is that some people just didn’t understand the movie. The film is working on many different levels. It requires you to look beyond the surface level. I had a good measure of the film about twenty minutes in, and whilst I was shocked with how far Aronofsky pushed things, I was never surprised by what happened. It all made logical sense to me. I can understand though, that if you had a different reading of the movie the last 30 minutes would be completely confusing. There’s also a case that those who didn’t like it did understand it, and either disagreed with the central messages or just didn’t enjoy it. Both of which are completely valid positions.
I’m going to attempt to unravel Mother! and show you why I enjoyed it so much, and what I took away from it. First off I’m going to have a look at the different readings of the movie. It’s a film that could be read as a bible allegory, an environmental plea, a look at the creative process, and a study on the treatment of females. Or is it just a movie about a woman who doesn’t want strangers in her house? Like I said, you take from the film what you bring to it. Darren Aronofsky released a statement before the film was released in order to give it some context, but my advice would be to go in blind.
We are tipped off from the beginning that this is a film that’s not meant to be taken at surface value. Ask yourself some questions. When is the film set? It’s very vague, the technology, clothing and look of the film are provoking a sense of timelessness. Where is it set? Again, a question that is never answered. The house is literally in the middle of nowhere. We also never see our main character venture past the porch of the house. Who are these characters? They’re never named, which provokes analysis. Aronofsky even tells us to look deeper, when Lawrence’s character literally looks past the surface level of the house to the heart beating within. A clear indication that the events of the movie should not be taken too literally.
So let’s have a look at Mother! as a bible allegory. This is where the events of the film begin to make the most sense. Javier Bardem is credited as Him, with a capital H. He is a poet, who creates. He is a creator. Not too much of stretch to see him as God, or at least as a God figure. We see him at the beginning placing the stone down and bringing the derelict house back to life. When Ed Harris’s Man appears this is the arrival of Adam. Bardem is fascinated with Harris. The creature that God loved above all was man. We see Harris on all fours by the toilet, a wound to his rib. In the Old Testament, Eve was created from Adam’s rib, and the next morning Michelle Pffiefer turns up. We have our Adam and Eve. They become obsessed with the strange piece of glass that Bardem keeps in his office. They are told not to touch it, but they do, and they break it. Paralleling the bite taken from the forbidden apple. Bardem kicks them out of his office, and boards it up. Closing off Eden. Then Harris’ and Pffeifer’s sons turn up. Where one proceeds to bash the other one over the head with a door knob, killing his brother. Cain and Abel. If you’ve followed it so far, then you will be able to see where the film is heading. At the funeral the house fills up, until the sink breaks, and water is sprayed everywhere. Lawrence tells everyone to get out, and he house is cleared. In this reading of the film this is clearly the great flood of which only Noah and his family remained of humanity. This reading isn’t too much of a stretch seeing as Noah was the last movie Aronofsky directed.
Now the film gets a little bit messy. Bardem and Lawrence have sex, and she becomes pregnant. Bardem regains his inspiration and writes his next piece of work. This could be seen as him creating again after the flood, or read as him writing out the New Testament. We even get the great line as his working where Lawrence tells him “I’ll just get started with the apocalypse.” It’s a line of foreshadowing, but also hints at the cyclical nature of the film. What follows is where the film loses a lot of people. If you weren’t with the film up to this point you’re going to think the next half hour is the maddest thing you’ve ever seen. The house gets more and more packed, as Bardem’s new piece gets more and more popular. I believe we are then treated to a condensed timeline of the human race, and all the ills we have created. All of human sin is exposed. A religion is set up around Bardem, and the violence seems to stem from this. It of course culminates in Lawrence giving birth to what is symbolically Jesus. Bardem takes him from her, and gives him to the people. Who kill him. They soon start a religion around him, and start to eat of his flesh. Literally this time. Not symbolically. Bardem pleads with Lawrence that she needs to forgive them. We get another great line near the end, where Lawrence asks Bardem “What are you?” to which he replies “I am I.” In much the same way God answered Moses from the burning bush. It’s the final hint to the audience. We are taken from the book of genesis to the apocalypse.
You’ll have noticed that in this reading, I haven’t mentioned Jennifer Lawrence much. That’s because I believe a basic grasp of this allegorical reading is needed to access the other readings of the film. To understand who Lawrence is, we first have to acknowledge who the others are. If this is a re-telling of the bible, and Bardem represents the Father, then you can only surmise that Lawrence is the Mother, the overlooked female counterpart. A very simple pitch for this film could be what if God has a spouse? If you dig into this idea, and peel back another layer, then you could read the film as a critique of how both the bible and society have sidelined females. She is completely devoted to Him, and only wants Him to be as devoted back, but he has this urge to create. His first creations, Adam and Eve, can’t believe that she’s renovated the house herself. She’s never asked her opinion if she even wants the guests to stay. In a classic case of gaslighting, she’s made to feel like she’s the odd one for not wanting strangers in her house. She’s made passive in the story by His actions. The atrocities of the third act highlight how this then becomes reflective in society. We see her being stared at suggestively, called a cunt, groped, they try to force her to be a sex slave. It’s a compilation of the worse ways society treats women, and it all stems from how Bardem has treated her previously. This culminates in Him taking her baby. He says that he is the babies father to which she spits “I’m his Mother!” This final act gives the people free reign to beat Lawrence to a pulp. Again, it represents the ultimate indignity forced upon the female image. In fact, if what we see at the end of the film is the rise of Christianity, a male dominated religion, we are also seeing the end of an era where other religions had both male and female Gods. A time when they were both equally respected. Lawrence’s beating is a representation of the fall of the female idol. I also found it interesting that Bardem’s office held resemblances to the Oval Office. He sat trying to work and getting the credit for his writing, whilst it was Lawrence who had built the house.
This unearths another layer to the film. In other religions the female figure is representative of both fertility and the earth. Taking fertility first, the whole film could be read as a metaphor for the female experience, in particular the experience of motherhood. You could argue that in the beginning of the movie she is in her adolescence. The arrival of Harris and Pffeifer awakens her sexuality. The eating of the apple is the original sin, the move from innocence to something else, a metaphor for puberty. This is followed by their son killing his brother, which leaves a vagina shaped blood stain on the floor boards. Which drops down into the basement before exploding everywhere. Her first period. It’s only after this that Bardem, the older man, will have sex with her, and she can conceive. Notice how once pregnant, her contractions seem to make time jump forward round the house. The closer together they get the more crazy and surreal the house becomes. Here it could be argued that Aronofsky ties together the trauma of childbirth with every other trauma woman kind has suffered. This is only surpassed by the shock and trauma of letting that child go.
Lastly, and maybe most importantly is to look at Lawrence’s connection to the house. If we take our bible allegory, the house must represent Earth. Lawrence as the female figure, can be seen as Mother Earth, or at least someone who is in touch with what the house feels. In this reading the film is a commentary on the way in which we treat the planet. It is the humans that Bardem is so obsessed with that are destroying everything she built. When Ed Harris arrives he brings with him both alcohol and a cigarette. He lights up in the house and Lawrence tells him not to smoke in the house, but the damage is done. The next time Lawrence looks into the heart of the house, a black rot has started to appear. We even see a dying bee. Lawrence throws away his lighter, she tries to prevent Man having access to fire. In this reading we see Lawrence as the one responsible for kicking the guests out the house. It’s her flood, she’s the one who uses nature to rid the earth of this pest. This isn’t the end though, because the flaw that was in the people before the flood is still built in. The more pollutants seen in the house, the more the house’s heart starts to shrivel up and die. As the house fills up we see people ripping it apart, everything that Lawrence’s character has built gets destroyed. When she says it’s hers the people respond that the poet said they could share it, but their version of sharing it is to tear it apart. They all have to take a piece of it for themselves. The house soon fills up to the point of over crowding. This claustrophobia being used to portray over population. The greed of humanity is on full display, and the way we treat the planet being reflected in the way the people treat the house.
It’s here where Aronofsky’s message comes through. In the final moments when Lawrence has been beaten (she’s another representation of how we treat the earth) where Bardem tells her she has to forgive. She can’t. She uses the lighter from the beginning of the film to burn the house down. It could be read as the final reckoning for all our sins, but I read it differently. It’s a warning of how the world will end. The fire and pollution we cause, heating up the earth until we are all gone. The message is clear. Your God might forgive you for your actions, but the earth will not. This adds to the complexity of Lawrence’s performance, when asked to speak at the wake, she’s lost for words, the same way that the Earth is speechless. Here we begin to understand her passivity, and it’s heartbreaking.
There are of course many more readings of the film. An examination of the older husband, younger wife dynamic. A study of the creative process, Bardem neglects his wife in order to chase the love and adoration of his fans. He finds validation in his work, but doesn’t get it from his wife. There is a cyclical nature to the film as well which speaks to the ego of the creator, Lawrence dies and gives Bardem the ability to create again, so he changes her rather than himself or his creations, meaning that the outcome will always be the same.
Watching the film was an emotional experience for me. It made me sad to think of how we treat the world and how the world treats women. Aronofsky doesn’t offer any real answers, but I left the film thinking, and I had an urge to discuss it. I didn’t understand all of it. I have no idea what the gold liquid Jennifer Lawrence was drinking was supposed to represent. This is a film which is designed to provoke. So say you don’t agree with the message, say you felt it was too full on, or too preachy. But don’t say it’s a bad film. Bad films don’t push the boundaries like Mother! They don’t provoke discussion like Mother! They don’t demand anything of you. Mother! demands a lot. It treats film as a true art form. For me, it was one of the purest pieces of cinema released last year.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our first deep cut. Want to carry on the conversation? Just leave your thoughts in the comments below.