‘mother!’ The Abstract, Allegorical Tale of the Worst Houseguests Ever

*DISCLAIMER: This analysis contains major spoilers for mother! If you have yet to see the film and wish to go in blind, please come back after seeing it.*

A few years after his Biblical epic, Noah, talented auteur, Darren Aronofsky, returns to the subject of faith and nature in his latest, mother! In this story of an isolated couple whose peace is disturbed by uninvited guests, Aronofsky has a lot to say in regards to religion, the environment and the narcissism of man, and makes the viewer work to figure out what his message is.

While this is an abstract film where a majority of the runtime is one extended nightmarish metaphor, it’s also an incredibly intriguing, tense and disturbing film that demands discussion and debate. The cinematography and the score also add to this by giving the film a jolt of constant, relentless tension. Since most of the film is contained in a single location, Aronofsky uses many close-ups to show character emotion and reactions. Lawrence and Bardem both give superb performances with a strong intensity in their portrayals. This ambitious project touches on a number of different issues such as religion, the environment and the narcissism of Man.

Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Mother, primarily represents Mother Earth, but also can represent the Virgin Mary, and Javier Bardem’s character, Him, is meant to represent God. Lawrence is occasionally referred to as “the home,” as she is constantly trying to renovate her house and “fix” it. She refurbishes her house wall to wall in order to provide a home for her husband and future generations. Bardem uses a crystal to bring life to his home when it is nothing but ash. The way Aronofsky shows His home being rebuilt and given life clearly symbolizes the creation of the world and mankind, as described in the early verses of Genesis.

The first guests to eventually enter their home (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer as Man and Woman) represent Adam and Eve. Pfeiffer’s character can’t resist her temptation for a glass ball (or forbidden fruit) in Bardem’s office, even after multiple warnings from Mother.  The Biblical references continue as the two sons of Harris and Pfeiffer arrive. A scenario closely resembling that of Cain and Abel follows shortly after as the house slowly fills with even more uninvited guests. Mother wanders around her home confused, upset and unsure what to do until a pipe bursts and Him finally kicks everyone out of his home. Once again, Aronofsky returns to Genesis as this symbolizes the Genesis flood that Aronofsky also covered in his previous film, Noah.

The second and third act of Aronofsky’s abstract puzzle presents even more religious symbolism when Him finds success in his poetry. His latest book represents the Bible, as Him truly becomes the God figure that Aronofsky has built up throughout the film. The couple finally has a baby, which symbolizes the birth of Christ. Mother refuses His wishes to share the baby with the absurd number of screaming admirers standing at their front door. When God eventually steals the baby from Mother and shares the infant with His admirers, the selfishness and arrogance of mankind kill the child. This is the point in the film where Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Mother, can also be seen as the Virgin Mary. She comments that she has never had sex with her partner, implying that she could be a virgin. Also, Mary attended the crucifixion and held the body of Christ similar to the way Mother held her mutilated infant. By making the character of Mother represent two different figures, it makes the film more ambiguous, and therefore fascinating.

The spiritual symbolism continues, however it becomes a bit more modern. Cult-like followers of His work begin to grow in size as their ideology becomes more violent and destructive in nature. Aronofsky uses these religious symbols to mirror modern life, and to show the absolute worst traits of humanity in the name of God. He has a lot to say about religion and the modern state of religion in mother!, but he also uses these themes to present a strong environmental message on top of that. He seems to convey that mankind needs to be more aware of what our planet is telling us. The director does this by representing Earth as the couple’s home and mankind as the rowdy and rude house guests.

The third act reflects more modern issues that the planet and humanity face. People are throwing riots, spewing hate, and there is constant violence everywhere Mother looks. She can see when something horrible is going happen, and she is yelling and pleading with everyone to be wary of their self-destructive actions, but the chaos doesn’t allow anyone to hear. We witness the guests completely caught up in the chaos around them that they forget about the destruction that they are committing.  Aronofsky could be saying that we should take a break from the constant violence inflicted on each other and listen to the warning signs that our planet is giving us, such as climate change. The consequences are also shown as Mother Earth slowly dies from the carelessness of man, and the house is burnt to the ground. Whenever a part of the home would be destroyed, or Mother Earth would be hurt, a part of the heart below the floorboard would die. Mother Earth and the home share this organ as it symbolizes the heart of our planet slowly dying.

Darren Aronofsky nailed it again, because mother! is a thrilling, intense and satisfying watch. Great performances and brilliant direction help successfully execute the insane, ambitious sensory experience that Aronofsky was attempting to create. With that being said, Aronofsky’s film is also thematically ambitious, as it allows viewers to draw their own interpretations of his artistic vision. A complex film like this can be interpreted in many ways and its ambition forces discussion and debate. It is completely acceptable and fair to hate this film or Aronofsky’s vision, but many casual film-goers have already dismissed this film because they refuse to look beyond its surface. Truly, this is a shame because with multiple viewings, a strong lesson about society and humanity can be learned. If you are willing to work hard to look for meaning in what Aronofsky has brought to the screen, then mother! is a truly rewarding and unforgettable experience.

Grade: A

(Featured Image: mother!, Paramount Pictures)

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