mother! is an amalgamation of Darren Aronofsky’s loud universe of allegory, muddled with a circus of nightmarish events, and a powerful, committed performance by Jennifer Lawrence.
To say that the film is thought-provoking is an understatement. mother! is Aronofsky’s artistic cry as to what the true role of a film director is: to start a conversation for the audience. The film is his medium of communication as to how auteur films are meant to be. With its ultra-weird narrative and seemingly desultory plot, the film expresses Aronofsky’s heavy vision on religion, nature, politics and marriage, relying on his own imagination and the audience’s perception. He takes the viewers in a first-person perspective; literally, the camera lens serve as Jennifer Lawrence’s eyes traveling through a lucid dream, which makes the experience very personal despite of its hifalutin intentions.
The cast, particularly Jennifer Lawrence and Michelle Pfeiffer, gave pivotal performances on different tones, flavors and objectives. Lawrence’s portrayal serves as the entire organism of the film — she is the heartbeat of mother! She commits to every layer of her character; she is subtle and spotless when needed be; and she’s fiery, almost explosive, when the film calls her to be. Pfeiffer adds that delight the film is longing. Her on-screen presence is an absolute breath of fresh air, and her wit helps in creating an arc of balance between the dark and the quirky.
The downfall of the film is Aronofsky’s over-reliance on metaphors. Metaphors work effectively as an undertone of a storyline where the audience has to dig, chew and digest. The problem with mother! is that you can’t dig on anything, as there isn’t a storyline at all. The tone itself is a metaphor, as if the entire film is a catalogue of personifications and allegories. Think of it as Aronofsky writing a poem, where every line is simply a grocery list of metaphors. It felt as if the entire film is a vanity project as to how capable he is in formulating figurative language. Starting with the nameless characters, aimless trajectory and nonsensical motives — let’s face it, mother! is empty of a solid, engaging narrative. It’s almost a show-off of poetic capacity, just for the sake of it.
Perhaps, the biggest gamble of the film is Aronofsky’s assumption that the knowledge of the audience would suffice given how these metaphors aren’t supported by actual plots. It’s as if we’re playing a game of luck: if you understood the film, then good for you in seeing the intellectual beauty that Aronofsky saw. If you didn’t, it’s completely understandable.
If you haven’t seen the film, I discourage you to read the section below, as I’m about to discuss my own theory regarding the metaphors of the film.
Let’s start with the title: mother! — where the m is stylized in lowercase, and ends up in an exclamation point. This is rather unorthodox for a title, but it serves a purpose. It suggests that Jennifer Lawrence’s titular role is below something greater and far more powerful, which leads us to the second character: Him (Javier Bardem). Given that His character is in uppercase, this suggests that He is God, and mother is His own creation, which was evidenced at the first scene of the film. Bardem’s role as the writer meant that He is the one who creates the stories. He has the power to give birth to characters who shall occupy the world. It has always been God’s duty to create human beings. Given how their relationship was established, and how the role of their home played a dynamic catalyst to their actions, this denotes one thing: Jennifer Lawrence is Earth, the mother nature, and how the title of the film ends up with an exclamation point meant that mother is in need for help. Notice how mother has been always protective of her home, how her stomach churns when people are drinking whisky, and how she runs out of breath when people smoke inside the house. This suggests how pollution starts to corrupt the system of our environment — her home, the Earth.
If we are to look at the set up of the beginning, it has always been God and Earth where no man has occupied their own space. The film represents their relentless intimacy, perfectly captured on film.
The film also goes biblical to a certain extent: Ed Harris plays a nameless man, and Michelle Pfeiffer plays a nameless woman. Given how Aronofsky assigned nameless characters to these actors meant that they are the epitome of two universal gender roles. Man and woman are epitomized by Adam and Eve. Their sons (played by Brian and Domnhall Gleeson), where one ended up killing the other due to pride and jealousy, strongly confirms that they are Cain and Abel.
The precious gem represents the forbidden fruit that is treasured at His office, which acted as the Garden of Eden. Notice how the woman had been wanting to go to that room despite repeated warnings that the room is forbidden denotes the concept of temptation. Even so, the man and woman still managed to get hold of that gem, which angered Him as they were specifically told not to. The next scene shows how man and woman started to have sex, representing the original sin. As soon as that original sin has been committed, Earth began to fall apart.
The second half of the film suggests how Earth is today, reeling to the theme of man vs nature. As soon as He has finished His book, mother then asks Him: “am I going to lose you?” — suggesting how God will now have followers, and the entire Earth will be just a secondary set up. What he wrote represented the bible, as the man (Ed Harris) has said in the beginning of the film “your words changed my life”. Mother, on the other hand, has always been clinging to God, who happens to be the love of her own life. She is happy as to how things are, but He clearly wanted more. He wanted to start the creation of life.
Strangers began pouring in occupying Earth, creating a world of their own, painting walls, eating the food that mother has created, which basically suggests how mother has been feeling with everyone in her own home: the Earth is hers, and we are just visitors who happen to have trespassed every limitation we have been imposed, and have exhausted every self-entitled privilege. The film’s strong message is how toxic the presence of mankind is to the world, and we see the effects of our deeds in the eyes of mother nature herself.
Overall, it comes in rare form how a director gives a personification towards a theme that’s overly tackled, but rarely experienced in full heated intimacy. Aronofsky might have overdone his execution, but the poetic realm he has created is beyond the capability of every brave director. The film itself is incredibly ambitious, but ambition is best left covered with a veil of subtlety. mother! screams ambition, but subtle it is not. It is for the audience to look at it as tacky and vain, or a courageous move by the unapologetic brilliance of Darren Aronofsky.