So, last week, I eagerly booked my tickets to see mother! at the cinema. I was excited, I had purposely ensured I knew as little about the film as possible going in, but then I started seeing things on Twitter, people claiming to have walked out of the cinema, even people claiming to have had panic attacks. I started to get nervous, could I handle this? I knew it was going to be a head fuck, it’s what Darren Aronofsky is renowned for, but I had seen A Serbian Film (won’t even bother linking to that trash) and I had survived, so I was sure I could manage. Aronofsky…I underestimated you.
Warning: this review contains spoilers.
Well, well, well, where the hell do I start? I can tell you that I did leave the cinema feeling incredibly anxious, upset and nauseous. It’ll be clear to you why later. I wanted to write this review and to cleanse the thoughts of it from myself ASAP, but I knew I couldn’t be objective about it if I did. I was angry, thinking why had Aronofsky subjected me to this? If I had written about the film immediately after seeing it, I would have told you that I hated it. So, I waited for the initial revulsion to subside and I’m glad I did. Did I hate the film? No. Does it deserve its F grade CinemaScore? No, it doesn’t.
Let me start by saying, I’m not a fan of J-Law. She has come out with a numerous amount of douchey comments over the years (if you would like to know what, check out Your Fave Is Problematic, who have a section dedicated to J-Law) and I often find myself wondering why so many people are so enamoured with her. I think her acting is sometimes weak and it certainly was in mother! whereas Michelle Pfeiffer was amazing as usual and is still a complete babe. Otherwise than that, the acting in the film was pretty strong all round.
The film is drenched in metaphor and allegory, so much of it, that it’s clear that Aronofsky holds a lot of resentment for humankind and I don’t blame him, but was this really the best way to present it?
Mother: I wanna make a Paradise.
mother! is a story of a man, known as only “Him” who is a poet struggling with writer’s block, and of his wife who is known as “Mother”. The film begins with a woman who is burning in a fire, we then see Him (Javier Bardem) smiling as he places a crystal on a mantle, as he does so, the house changes from being a burnt wreck to being immaculate. Mother appears in the bed, awakens and searches for Him in the house. We come to learn that Him lost his previous wife in a fire which consumed the house and Mother is renovating it. Him has been struggling with writer’s block since the incident. As Mother decorates a wall, she presses herself against the wall to feel the beating heart of their home.
Shortly after a man arrives at their home, he claims to have confused it for a Bed and Breakfast, with nowhere else to go Him invites the “Man” to stay with them. The man suffers from a bad cough. The man and Him stay up talking and drinking, Him shows Man the crystal in his office and explains that he found it the ashes of the house. Man is fascinated and wished to touch it, Him does not allow him to. Mother awakes to find Him helping the man as he coughs and vomits into a toilet. Mother notices a wound on his back which Him quickly hides. The next day a woman arrives at the house who turns out to be the man’s wife, Him and Man (Ed Harris) leave to go on a hike will Mother is left with Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer). Woman incessantly asks Mother questions about why Mother doesn’t have children with Him. She also wants to go in Him’s office, but Mother does not allow it. We learn that the man is a big fan of Him’s work and is actually at their house because he is dying and wanted to meet Him.
Man and Woman go into Him’s office to look at the crystal, they drop it and it smashes on the floor, Him is so angry he pulls the door handle out of the door and then boards up his office. Mother goes to tell Man and Woman to leave but walks in on them together. After some time, they still haven’t left so Him and Mother walk them out of the house. As they are about to leave Woman and Man’s sons arrive, who are arguing about who will get their father’s money, they begin to fight and one son bludgeons the other unconscious with the door handle, he is bleeding on the floor. Him, Woman and Man leave to take their son to hospital and leave Mother alone. She cleans up the blood, she is unable to clean it all off. Mother presses on the bloody patch, it breaks away to reveal the basement below. Mother goes down to the basement, there is blood pouring from the hole above. She switches on a light, the blood is pouring onto the bulb, causing it to explode. She notices the blood is outlining an old doorway in the wall, she smashes the wall to reveal a door leading to an oil tank. The son who injured his brother (Domhnall Gleeson) appears at the house again, he comments on how they left her alone too. Then he leaves.
Him arrives back at the house and informs Mother that the son is dead, he has agreed to hold a wake at the house for them. Man and Woman return to the house with many other guests. The guest’s behaviour gets out of hand, two guests ignore Mother requests not to sit on the sink, they tell her it’s fine for them to do so, they bounce up and down on the sink until it breaks away from the wall, water sprays everywhere. The guests flee the house. Mother argues with Him about how he has allowed this to happen, she shouts at him for not touching her, they then begin to have passionate sex. Afterwards she tells Him she knows she is pregnant. Mother pours away the medicine she has been taking for her unknown ailment. Him is inspired by their time together, his writer’s block finally shifts. Him shows Mother is new work, she cries. Mother then learns that Him has sent his work to his agent, The Herald (Kristen Wiig), before he let her read it.
Time passes and we see that Mother is nearing the end of her pregnancy. She prepares a meal for Him and dresses up for the evening. People arrive at the house, Him tells Mother they are his fans who want to be with him. Mother doesn’t want them to come into the home but they burst in any way. The Herald arrives. Mother tries to get everyone to leave as more people spill out of the woods to the house. The fans start to steal things from the house, when she shouts at them to stop, she tells them that it is her house, they scoff at her. People begin to trash the house and fight each other; The Herald begins to execute people. A SWAT team arrives and blasts the house, killing The Herald. The SWAT team fights with the zealots. An artillery shell hits the house, Mother has gone into labour and Him tries to bring her to safety by breaking into his office. The zealots try to break into the room which he barricades off. Mother gives birth to her son.
Mother pleads with Him to make them leave, he tells her they just want to see the baby. Him refuses to make them leave, because of this Mother won’t allow Him to hold the baby. Him sits and watches Mother and waits, Mother watches over her baby for a whole day until she falls asleep. She awakes to find Him has taken the baby out to the zealots, the crowd raises the baby above them, passing him across the room, Mother chases after the baby. As they pass the baby over head his neck snaps, Mother frantically tries to get to him. As she gets to the front of the room she finds that the leader of the zealots has butchered the baby and has given it to the zealots to eat. Mother screams that they are murderers and starts to kill some of the zealots with a shard of glass. The leader hits her and she falls to the floor. The zealots beat her and rip at her cloths. Him pulls her up to try to protect her. She screams at Him that they killed their baby, he tells her they must try to forgive them.
Mother runs to the basement and breaks open the oil tank, Him begs her to stop but Mother sets the oil alight. The house goes up in flames and all the zealots are killed. Only mother and Him survive, Him is unscathed and Mother is badly burnt. Mother says she wants to die, Him asks for Mother’s love, she agrees to give it. Him pulls Mother’s heart from her body and she crumbles away. Him squeezes the heart to reveal a new crystal. He places it on the mantel again, the house returns to normal and another Mother appears in the bed.
Why have I given you a synopsis of the film? It is so I can break down the metaphors thoroughly for you. I will tell you how I personally interpreted certain elements of the film. To begin, I’ll point out the obvious.
Him is God, the house is the planet Earth and Mother is Mother Earth. The beating heart of the house is Gaia, the spirit and energy of Earth. The renovation of the house represents Mother nurturing the planet. As the events progress, the heart begins to wither. Mother and the house is not enough for Him, so he brings Man into his home, Man is Adam, from Adam’s rib he creates Eve/Woman. When they smash the crystal, this represents Adam and Eve giving into temptation and eating the apple. The two sons are Cain and Able. The breaking sink represents the great flood that cleanses Earth of humankind. When people scoff at Mother’s claim to her home, that represents how humans think Earth belongs to them. What Him has written is the word of God and brings his followers to the house. Mother’s child is Jesus and they eat of his flesh and drink of his blood. Mother burning the house represents Mother Earth’s wrath. Everything else in the film is Aronofsky’s commentary on humankind, the horrible events that occur in the house are a metaphor for how we treat our planet and how we treat each other. War, climate change, etc. The whole story is cyclical, just like life is, in more ways than one. The main problem was that I couldn’t process this information until a while after watching the film as I needed time to recover from its grotesque nature. Clearly, Aronofsky has a lot to say about humankind. Clearly this film was some sort of cathartic exercise for him, but if mother! was a call to action, the only action it called for was huddling under my duvet whilst I Googled cute fluffy kittens.
Woman: You give, and you give, and you give. It’s just never enough
The other day I saw a photograph posted by the BBC on social media, it was an image of a seahorse clinging onto a cotton bud floating in the sea (if you would like to see the image click here), it is probably amongst the saddest images I have ever seen. Why am I telling you this? Well, immediately afterwards, from the guilt of not doing enough to help change things, I decided I was going to take up litter-picking on the weekends. Watching mother! didn’t incite me to make any decisions like this and therefore I feel, in Aronofsky’s intentions, he was unsuccessful.
Anyone intelligent enough to grasp the metaphors in this film, is probably well aware of what humans are doing to this planet, so why the need for the traumatic imagery? I still maintain that a film should be somewhat entertaining, even if it has something important to say. All I felt when watching mother! was frustration, anger, and distress. Nothing about the experience was enjoyable. The film was like a fevered nightmare, one of those ones where loads of messed up stuff is happening and you’re thinking “what the fuck?!” the whole time but everyone else just behaves like everything is normal.
In 1973 The Exorcist came to the cinema, film-goers reacted by passing out, vomiting and needing medical attention. Some people were quite badly affected by the film. I can’t even begin to imagine their reactions to mother! had they seen it then. So, it leaves me wondering why we think it is acceptable that people are so desensitized, is it okay that we are seeing these sorts of images in film? This is one of many discussions that the film has raised.
One of the discussions that has also been raised is about this film being misogynistic. Jennifer Lawrence’s performance was weak, but she was portraying a character unable to stand up or speak for herself, the horrible things she is submitted to, when she is called a bitch and a whore, the beatings and the stripping of her clothes. I thought on this for a while and I can see why people would call this film misogynistic but I don’t think that Aronofsky is a misogynist. I believe the film is intentionally made this way to highlight how women are treated in society. It is disgusting to watch, but that is the point.
There is so much that could be said about mother!, I have already gone on for too long and much like that famous Churchill quote, if I had more time, I would have written it shorter. So, I will summarise by saying: I salute Darren Aronofsky for caring so deeply and fortunately he can’t displease everyone. I can’t tell you whether this film is good or not, maybe one day I will be able to decide, but for now I can tell you that the film IS important, at least for the discussions it raises.