mother! 2017. Directed & Written by Darren Aronofsky.
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Harris, Brian Gleeson, Domhnall Gleeson, Jovan Adepo, Amanda Chiu, Patricia Summersett, Eric Davis Emily Hampshire, Luis Oliva, Stephen McHattie, & Kristen Wiig.
Rated R. 121 minutes.
Did it piss you off? Were you cheated? Because right from the opening shots of mother! it’s abundantly clear this film is a surreal piece of cinema. Not sure what anyone would expect from Darren Aronofsky, whose most conventional films are even odd in their own rights. Just the teaser, the trailers alone showed us that a weird experience was headed our way. So, to see some of the uproar over this film is, to me, kind of hilarious.
The premise of the film is simple, at the start: a married couple (Jennifer Lawrence + Javier Bardem) live in a picturesque home in the country, surrounded by forest, and one after another people seem to keep intruding on their lives, endlessly, which drives the both of them… a little, mad.
Of course it isn’t at all simple, not once Aronofsky sinks his teeth into the viewer. From then on, he never lets go. He’s given his take on things in interviews, explaining himself. He also realises that if you pull to hard on too many threads it’ll all unravel. That’s why there’s a clear, definite concept. Despite how twisting and turning the walls of the labyrinth become by the end. And it’s all about how we – men, society – treat women. Just so happens we refer to the natural world as Mother Nature, too. A perfect parallel with which Aronosfky plays.
What’s most interesting, to me, is how the concept of womanhood is played with via Lawrence’s character, simply credited as Mother. Right away, this starts in on the patriarchal expectations of women. We as a society expect a woman to be a mother intrinsically, though we don’t treat men in the same way, assuming them a father; this is why Bardem’s husband is credited as Him.
Moreover, Mother is seen as the ultimate caregiver. She’s not only cooking breakfast, washing dishes, walking around barefoot (a particularly misogynist concept of the woman as barefoot and pregnant despite it also looking like an image of natural connection between Mother/the house), Mother likewise looks after the house, patching it up, “breathing life” into the rooms. As well as the fact she acts as the emotional life support system for Him, the tortured poet, the Creator, suffering from writer’s block and trying to rebuild after losing everything in a fire.
The treatment of Mother – both symbolising nature and woman at once – is one of the significant elements to Aronofsky’s film. Consistently, Mother is ignored, she is subtly mistreated and also outright abused by the end. Perhaps the greatest evidence is the continuous assumption the house does not belong to her – no matter the fact she’s all but rebuilt it herself – but instead it’s see as belonging to Him.
mother!‘s best macabre image is a direct link to one of the influences Aronofsky talked about during promotion on the film. We all remember the one report of a baby dolphin dying from people on a beach passing it around, taking selfies. The filmmaker recreates this image, keeping in line with our mistreatment of Mother Nature, women, by having the fanatic fans of Him pass around the poet and Mother’s newborn baby. Until the baby’s neck snaps while they crowd surf it around the room. This image encapsulates perfectly the disrespect of women/Mother Nature that the film is trying to touch on. It’s a physically shocking moment, and represents a misogynist disregard for the power of women to give life.
When we start viewing Him as God, all the other parallels for his character become apparent. First, the arrival of the Man (Ed Harris) brings about comparisons to Adam, including the wound on his back, a possible missing Adam’s Rib. Not long later the Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) turns up, as well. It’s not until their sons (Brian & Domhnall Gleeson) barge through the doors that the family connections are totally apparent, as the story of Abel and Cain plays out in front of Mother, one slaying the other.
Second, once the stand-in for Abel is dead, thus begins a celebration of his life by the remaining family, after Cain wanders away, out into the wilderness. During the celebration, what we witness is a riff on apocalyptic literature; specifically, the Apocalypse of Adam, involving the great Deluge (breaking of the sink, the pouring pipes) and an attempted destruction by fire (the house’s flaming finale).
There are a few interpretations of the crystal heart which gives the house life, the one which is dug out of Mother after she’s engulfed in flames. My favourite comes straight out of scripture, becoming another addition to the religious motif Aronofsky uses. In Revelation 21:11 it’s written: “… having the glory of God, Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal–clear jasper.” Even in the way the beginning becomes the end, the end becomes the beginning, this is the Alpha and the Omega, another Christian concept.
And without going into much detail, Christianity at its heart is misogynistic, with the story of Eve eating the apple becoming a way for religion to discriminate against women historically. If we follow along with the religious imagery, Aronofsky’s film makes a powerful statement about the way Christianity devalues women in favour of the Creator, the great poet, God. He gets all the credit, she takes all the pain. You could spool this thread on forever.
It’s easy enough to find other metaphors in mother! – you can easily just go with the treatment of women on its own, without considering Mother Nature as a broader idea. God is already used as a metaphor when talking about human relations. Here, God is the poet, so it’s easy to view Him and Mother in the sense that he is a tortured artist with whom she must live, suffering as an incubator for his ideas, his aspirations, his art, his child. So, the religious stuff, the Mother Nature analogy, it isn’t the sole interpretation. Even if you want to listen to Aronofsky, remember: authorial intent means nothing if you want to discard it. The viewer, the beholder is left to interpret as they will.
For me, the analogy to how we treat Mother Nature, viewed through the lens of how we as humans treat women, works perfectly. Aronofsky is a daring artist, he has been since the start. I hope that, regardless of the reception he got for this film, he keeps swinging for the fences. mother! is one of my favourite films of 2017, likewise it’s going on my all-time list of favourites, too.
Others can say what they want, that it’s too confused or chaotic, whatever. That’s fine; art is subjective. I, for one, was thrilled, and there’s barely been a night since I saw it I haven’t thought of mother! while I fall asleep. It’s inspiring, it’s surreal, it’s one of the reasons why I love cinema.