Upon watching Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! I sat down and tried to write one of my classic spoiler-free reviews. Well, I must admit I had no clue where to begin.
Thus, I waited two months – for the DVD release – re-watched it, read many articles, comments, explanations about the film in order to try and review it.
Very simply put, Mother! tells the story of Him/Poet (Javier Bardem) and Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) living alone in a house in the middle of nowhere. When Man (Ed Harris) and Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) pay them an unexpected visit, the relationship between the two main characters – or I’d better call the symbols – begins to deteriorate. More tension is brought into the house by other visitors: two brothers who argue until one kills the other; many unwanted guests who ignore and mistreat Mother, until Him kicks them out.
When it seems that the couple’s balance had been restored – with Him impregnating Mother and starting to write again – more worshippers invade Mother’s property and turn it into some sort of war zone, where every single inhuman crime is committed. Until, Mother! takes a brutal, violent and disturbing turn when Lawrence’s child sees the light of day.
First things first: Darren Aronofsky’s motion picture can’t be judged through the same criteria you’d utilise for any other movie. Mother! is an allegory, an epic religious metaphor for many things.
As such, the story isn’t set in any particular time or place. The timeline, although rather straightforward, follows a circular trajectory, with the beginning being the ending and vice versa.
Secondly, the characters are allegories for something else as well, as I hinted before: Jennifer Lawrence’s representative of Mother Earth, hence why she’s got a symbiotic relationship with the house throughout the whole cinematic experience. The building falls apart, bleeds and cracks appear whenever she feels hurt inside, confused or without the upper hand.
She, however, is created by Him – an obvious representation of God, Bardem’s character gives existence to everything in the film, including Mother. As I will explain later on, thanks to the priceless help of my girlfriend, Aronofky’s depiction of god goes beyond the restraints of single religion: Him is the god of humanity, whose presence doesn’t differ from Judaism to Christianity to Islam.
Metaphors explained – more spoilers ahead:
There are multiple representations of religious narratives throughout this film, as we can’t go into them all we will stick with Christianity. The first being Adam and Eve. When Man enters the house Bardem’s character welcomes him with open arms, he invites him into his study and shows him a crystal resting on its own mantle, we will come back to this later. However, later that night Mother wakes and finds Him with Man throwing up bent over a toilet. Mother notices a bloodied injury on his back-right hand rib cage which Him sharply covers and tells her to leave. The morning after Woman appears at the door, greets Man as his wife, and quickly makes herself at home. This seemingly inconspicuous detail is synonymous with Genesis 2:22 in which God takes Adam’s rib and fashions him a wife.
Later, Man and Woman enter the study of Him despite every warning not to (sound familiar?) and break Him’s crystal, Him is devastated and not only loses his temper but also banishes them from the study and boards up the doors so no one can enter again. This is metaphorical for Genesis 3:6, Adam and Eve being given everything by God but wanting more, the snake tempts them to eat the apple (the crystal) to gain knowledge and consequently they are banished, along with the rest of humanity, from The Garden of Eden (the study) and fall to a life of sin; sin shown by Mother walking in on Man and Woman having sex, a representation of lust.
Biblical metaphors continue as two brothers, the sons of Man and Woman, enter the house fighting over Man’s money that has been willed to them. A fight breaks loose as they chase each other through the house. This violent outburst culminates in one brother beating the other almost to death with a door knob as mother desperately tries to stop them. Him, Man and Woman take the dying brother to hospital, leaving Mother in the house alone to clean up the mess. Later the killing brother returns with a scratch on his forehead to kill his father, but finds Mother alone and leaves again. The two brothers are a representation of the story of Cane and Abel, Genesis 4:1-16, in which Cane kills Abel and is marked by God (the scratch on the brothers’ forehead) to prevent anyone from killing him.
Finally, the last half an hour of the film which go from 0-100 in 2 minutes, is rife with biblical metaphors and metaphorical representations of humanities’ impact on earth. Amongst the chaos Him is desperately trying to help anyone he can as the struggle has become too large to control. Meanwhile, Mother is seemingly lost amongst the mess and goes in to labour. Mother and Him find sanctuary in the study, she gives birth and refuses to give Him the child. However, she falls asleep to wake to the child being passed amongst the chaos of a metaphorical humanity. This humanity, in seemingly good intentions but desperate to see and touch the child, rip him in half. Mother fights her way to an alter to find people ‘feasting’ on the blood and flesh of the child, wishing for forgiveness and mourning the loss of the child. Matthew 27:32-56 describes the crucifixion of Christ and in this sequence the child is metaphorical of Christ, humanities destruction of him and the forgiveness they ask for when taking Sacrament in church by consuming the blood and body of Christ.
Fast forward 10 minutes and Lawrence’s character is in the basement, disgusted and vengeful against the people in her house and Him, she lights a tank of oil on fire which explodes and brings us full circle to the opening scene of the film once again. This last sequence notions towards Thessalonians 4:16-18 in which The Rapture or The Apocalypse is foretold, humanity will perish and all sinners will be scorched leaving only the virtuous behind, however, no one is left behind but Lawrence and Bardem (Anouska Aylen-Peacock).
Throughout the whole cinematic experience, the director doesn’t hold any punches, however the grand finale is the most unapologetic part of Mother! My girlfriend, who didn’t flinch once while watching Martyrs and thought The Human Centipede 2 was nothing more than a dark comedy, felt sick to her stomach and almost left me to finish the film alone!
The unsettling atmosphere is provided by an astounding camera-work and overall directorial choices on a technical level: 95% of Mother! is filmed with close-ups of Jennifer Lawrence, whose perspective we follow for the most part of the two-hour-long runtime. Personally, I struggle to find another film in which the camera-work is able to create such a gut-wrenching, claustrophobic feeling that makes the viewer want to go to an open space and breathe some fresh air.
Shot on 16mm, with a ratio of 2.35 : 1, this cinematic experience works on a set design constantly affected by the colour scheme, which enhances Mother’s emotions throughout, while also delivering uneasiness and a sense of dread.
Yet, the performances are all-around top-notch, with some cameos that truly shocked me in the best way possible. The standout performance, however, is provided by an unseen Jennifer Lawrence: I doubt the Academy will have the balls to nominate her for best actress, but if they do that would be very much deserved. Her role is truly daring and Mother goes through a lot in the movie… I don’t know how many Hollywood stars would light-heartedly attach their name to a project like this one, in all fairness.
Furthermore, Mother! features no soundtrack. Other than background noises, this cinematic experience works beautifully and seamlessly without any score: to my knowledge, there aren’t many films in the history of cinema that can carry such a high level of intensity, such a dreadful sense of pending menace without using music.
All of that, makes Darren Aronofsky’s magnum opus an intense, frustrating, offensive, blasphemous and unpleasant ride – are these either good or bad things per se? We’d answer with a resounding ‘no’.
Mother! is an insanely ambitious project, in which the director puts his beliefs (or lack thereof, in regards to religion), his inner demons (the writing block), the hopelessness of humanity, the disintegration of loving relationships and, probably, much more than ‘just’ that.
As I stated at the beginning of this analysis, Mother! is something we haven’t seen before, an epic horror film that has no predecessors in cinema history and, therefore, shouldn’t be judged – let alone reviewed – by conventional standards. If these paragraphs made you want to experience Mother!, go ahead: Aronofsky is offering moviegoers a motion picture that will make people debate and discuss for, at least, a decade. Do you feel ready for this mind-fuckery?
For this blog post, I want to sincerely thank: