I walked into Mother having absolutely no clue what the film would be about. The previews definitively made the film seem as if it was going to be a horror film a la Rosemary’s Baby mixed with The Strangers so admittedly I was pretty pumped to add another horror movie to my fall list. Then all of the reviews started coming out and I realized who Mother was directed by, Darren Aronofsky, and I knew I was in for…Well, something incredibly strange.
Overall, I think Mother did a really excellent way of challenging mine and audience’s expectations and creating something fresh. Avant-gard films are much less prevalent than they once were and Aronofsky’s ability to make something that feels completely original while still borrowing from familiar elements is absolutely masterful.
Mother stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a happily married couple living in the middle of nowhere. From that tagline, the film really does set you up to believe that it’s going for an insidious sort of storyline, yet the opening sequence immediately subverts that expectation. A burnt, rustic home transforms before our eyes turning whole and beautiful again as Him (Bardem) sets a crystal in the center of his study. Quite clearly, I wasn’t in for a typical horror movie.
From then on, the scene is so quaint that it seems to be Nicholas Sparksian in nature, existing in a world quite unlike what we as the audience are accustomed to. The two live in the middle of nowhere with a wall phone, renovating an old home, with dewy-eyed glances at one another acting as their only entertainment. The camera work also struck me as way more personal as Mother (Lawrence) is almost always framed in a close-up shot as the film proceeds into its conflict.
Thankfully, it doesn’t even take twenty minutes before that conflict occurs, as a stranger shows up on the couple’s doorsteps, interrupting their tranquility. Like the other two characters, the man isn’t mentioned by name and is simply referred to as Man in the credit sequence. Man, states that he’s a visitor from out of town who has mistaken their home for an inn. Taking him at his word, Him, lets the man end and welcomes him without hesitation. At this point, I’m thinking that they’re either about to be brutally murdered by an axe murderer as so it seems does Mother. She grimaces as the man slowly begins intruding on their space, smoking inside the house and asking to stay for a few days which only seems to bother her as Him shrugs, seemingly unbothered.
After a while, more and more guests begin to show up, including the man’s wife and two bickering sons. At this point, I began reading the film as an ode to motherhood and uncomfortable family dynamics. The man’s wife is intrusive, asking questions about the couple’s sex lives and getting way too drunk for a weekday afternoon. Their refusal to leave was also indicative of in-laws overstaying their welcome. In addition, Him’s unappreciative nature of Mother made me think of a woman of the early 1900s, running behind their husbands in conservative moo moos, cooking and cleaning up after children and intrusive in law while the boys go out to play golf.
As my perception of what the film was actually about became set, the film started to go so far into right field that it took me a while to determine what allegorical conclusions I had to come to now. Woman and Man, deciding to go into Him’s “study” despite warnings from Mother, break Him’s crystal, sending the rest of the story into a tailspin. Suddenly, the two’s angry sons show up on Mother’s doorstep as well fighting so ferociously that one hits another in the head and kills him. At this point, the allusions to biblical events become more apparent. Adam and Eve had officially been kicked out of the garden and everything was officially about to go to shit.
Soon droves of grievers flock to the house, much to the elation of Him and the chagrin of Mother. She sees the uninvited guests as most anyone would see them: rude, negligent parasites that destroy everything that she’s worked hard on, yet Him still seems blissfully unaware, declaring that everything can be fixed just as easily as it’s been broke. Finally, the guests are ushered out forcibly after destroying so much that Mother screams for them to leave. Afterwards, Mother gets over her anger at Him for allowing so many people into the home and subsequently grows pregnant.
After this occurs, every aspect of the film began to crystallize a bit more for me, except for who Mother was supposed to represent. Was she meant to represent a by standards view of how humanity destroyed the peacefulness of the Creator’s first creation? It wasn’t until after I’d read a few other reviews and listened to the director’s interviews, that I recognized Mother as Mother Earth.
The creator than releases a new book (no doubt an allusion to the new testament) that brings out fans from all over the area. As more and more people begin to invade their space, Mother’s grievances begin to be dwarfed by Him’s desire to accept everyone into his home, no matter how vile, inappropriate, or pugnacious. As a result, the entire home literally becomes a war zone with bombs and murders going off in the background as Mother begins to contract, trying to protect her child from the ensuing chaos.
As she begins to give birth I won’t lie I googled what was going to happen next, children getting harmed will never not be a no-go for me. You can’t birth metaphorical Jesus in a home filled with overzealous psychopaths and expect the kid to turn out okay at the end. Barricaded in a room, Mother gives birth and tries to protect her child from the crowd while Him declares that the crowd “just wants to see him” and that he wants to take the child to the people. Too weak to resist, Mother falls asleep and the child is offered up to the people, killed, and literally eaten right in front of her. This, of course, represents the birth of Jesus as the three hide out in the “manger,” and the death of Jesus as he’s given up by his Father to die. The eating of the dead body is then representative of communion for atonement. Him even goes so far as to demand that Mother forgive the people for what they’ve done because they “don’t know any better”. After being beaten to the point of near death, Mother Earth burns the entire house to the ground using an oil leak below the house, and I quite literally wanted to cheer for the death of humanity.
The final scene depicts Him carrying Mother out of the ashes and asking something like why she wasn’t good enough. He replies that nothing ever is and takes out her heart which is revealed to be another crystal like the first we’d seen in the movie (yes I know I thought of Moana too). The house is then rebuilt and another Mother wakes up in bed searching for Him just as the first Mother had done during the beginning of the film.
What exactly is Mother trying to impart to us? Humans suck, and don’t deserve to live on this planet? Is it an indictment on religion or just religious fanaticism? Is it a call to action or introspection? Maybe it’s all of the above and that’s the point. One thing, however, is for sure, Hollywood deserves more films that make its audiences think critically about the world around us.