Oct-23-2017

Mother! May I?

If my review of Mother! left you confused and frustrated, you should know that I felt the same way. It’s really quite impossible to talk about this movie without spoiling the entire plot because the narrative follows symbolism over logic. So since I can’t talk about it without spoilers, let me present my spoiler filled discussion and deconstruction of Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!

Something you may have noticed in my review is that I never referred to any of the characters by name. That’s because they don’t have names, which is where our symbolism begins. The credits list Jennifer Lawrence’s character as “Mother” and Javier Bardem’s as “Him.” This ties directly into who they represent: Mother, who spends the entire movie fixing her house and making it habitable, is Mother Nature and by Him, who is focused on writing his next big masterpiece and wants the house to be “full of life,” we mean God. It’s important to tackle these because without this knowledge, the rest of the events don’t click.

So we start with Mother and Him alone in the house (which, I should note, the entire movie takes place in) when Ed Harris’ character comes to the house, claiming to have been inspired by Him’s first book and wanting to meet him in person before he dies. After a night where Him helps the visitor as he’s violently sick and sporting an injury, his wife shows up at the front door the next day. His wife is brash, disrespectful to Mother, and breaks a priceless heirloom that Him treasures and specifically forbade them to touch. They are asked to leave, but soon after, their two sons burst in the front door arguing about money. It ends brutally when the Older Son kills the Younger Brother (as the credits list them) by bashing his head in with a blunt doorknob.

Well, I think it’s clear who all these people are, but if not, let’s dive in. The credits list Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer is playing “Man” and “Woman” — specifically referring to the first man and woman as told in Bible lore, Adam and Eve. The injury that preceded Woman’s arrival was centered around Man’s rib, referencing how Eve was born from Adam’s rib. Her attitude and eventual breaking of the heirloom is a direct parallel to Eve’s tryst with the forbidden apple that got the two expelled from the Garden of Eden. Finally, that bit with the children draws to mind the feud of Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve’s own children, right down to Oldest Son killing Younger Brother with a blunt object in the same way Cain struck down Abel with a rock.

What we’re seeing here is the Book of Genesis in fast-forward. Shortly after Man arrives, Woman follows. After their expulsion, they have sex in the back room and soon afterwards, Older Son and Younger Brother show up at the door. This is where the metaphor as story is really on display because the house appears to be a stand in for the world. If someone isn’t inside or around the house, then by the movie’s dream subtext logic, they don’t exist. On a side note, the movie was originally called Day 6, named for the day God was said to have created humans.

But this is subtext, not regular text, because after Him, Man, and Woman leave with the body of Younger Son, they come back with a sizable group of mourners. Here’s where the second big theme of the movie comes into play because these guests, invited without Mother’s permission, intrude on her hospitality in every way. They paint her house without her permission, urinate on the walls, and sit on an unstable sink, which eventually breaks and throws the piping out of whack, which in turn floods the house. Fed up, Mother kicks all of the “guests” out

So we’ve got a few things going on here. The first is the parallel to the story of Noah and the flood, with the guests being degenerates and a flood removing them from the house (i.e., the world). To hammer the point home further, it’s a man and a woman who break the shelf. The next side of these events is that Mother is being ignored and talked over while everyone is fawning over Him and Younger Brother, which speaks to how society treats women (complete with a guy creepily hitting on her). The third is an environmental story; remember, Mother represents Mother Nature and here, she’s telling people that what they’re doing is hurting the house and getting scoffed at until it’s too late. Insert your own environmental comment here because there are far too many for me to choose from.

Following their people’s departure and a fight between Mother and Him, they passionately make love and Mother becomes pregnant. This wonderful news gets Him to start writing again. Days go by, Mother’s pregnancy progresses, and Him’s book gets published with outstanding success. One night, Mother prepares dinner and is ready for Him and her to have a quiet, intimate dinner to themselves to celebrate everything. Sadly, it is not meant to be.

Fans and press start swarming the house, first surrounding the outside and then flooding inside, all to hear the words of this inspiring author. Mother desperately wants them to leave, but Him welcomes them with open arms, bathing in their praise and attention. This time, the guests aren’t as restrained as before as they steal things and actually rip apart furniture just to get a memento of the pilgrimage to see their beloved author. In other words, they’re stripmining Mother Nature’s world without paying heed to what she wants just to get something they feel they’re entitled to.

At this point, the dream logic starts to become more prevalent as Mother starts to go into contractions. In each contraction, the world (or at least the camera starts to shake violently and the scenery changes in some ways. The madness in the house increases as suddenly fans are herding other fans into dirty pens as if it were a war torn country, which shifts into public executions akin to Al Qaeda, followed by SWAT teams breaching the windows and gunning people down. There’s no logical progression for this, no way that these could be set up and executed in the short time that they happen. It’s as if when Mother walks through a door or closes her eyes, the scene shifts or time moves forward — again, much like how a dream operates.

It’s at this point that Him starts giving a damn about his wife and takes her to the room where his priceless heirloom once sat. Barricading the door from the madness, he helps her give birth to their new baby boy (no points for guessing who he represents) and for a moment, everything is right. But then Him asks to hold his child and Mother, who is most likely sick of all his crap, refuses. Everything else has been taken from her and she no doubt wants to hold on to one thing she created. The end result is the two staring each other down, waiting until the other goes to sleep.

But Mother has been through at least two exhausting ordeals and nods off, only to wake and find her baby gone. Not only did Him ignore her wishes, but gave the baby to his crazy followers to hold and pass around. The visual of Baby Not-Jesus being manhandled and passed around while wailing and urinating unchecked would be horrible enough without Mother screaming for her baby back. She tries desperately to get to him… only to hear a sickening crack as the baby’s neck snaps.

Distraught, she pushes through the crowd only to find that in the few seconds between the baby’s death and her arrival that these zealots have carved up the corpse and started eating it, taking the metaphor of Communion to a very literal place. After killing a few of them in a rage, the crowd overpowers and starts beating on Mother, calling her just about every nasty word for woman imaginable. If this seems harsh, remember that much of our media has some choice words about Mother Nature, including a Nirvana song calling her a whore.

Finally, enough is enough; Mother screams in defiance and rage and the floor literally rips open. It’s been hinted that Mother’s relationship with the house is more than just a caretaker and again, we are given a very literal interpretation of any number of figures of speech. She finally goes to the basement and sets fire to the oil and gas, setting the house ablaze with a mighty explosion and killing everyone. To sum up, humans disrespected and mistreated Mother Nature, so she destroyed the world and every human in it.

Only Him survives, carrying Mother’s charred but still breathing body, saying that despite everything he’s taken from her, he must ask one more thing of her: her love. In spite of everything, she still has a spark of that for him and consents. So he literally takes her heart out and crushes away everything burned and shriveled and is left with the crystal heirloom he had before. In an exact copy of the first scene of the movie, which was presented without context, he places the crystal in its original place which restores the house from its burned state. Mother wakes up in her bed, but with a different face than before, revealing that this tragedy is actually the latest in a cycle.

So we have four stories being told at once here. One is what’s on the surface, a surreal and esoteric tale of a one-sided marriage. The second is a brutal look at how women are treated in society, with Mother standing in for the average woman. Next is the biblical allegory, highlighting all of the senseless things people can do in the name of belief and how only God seems to benefit. Finally, we have the environmentalist story of the world-made-flesh being misused, mistreated, and ignored until she kills everyone.

This doesn’t excuse the movie for any shortcomings or cast detractors in the wrong for not “getting it.” But you see why I couldn’t really go into depth of my thoughts and analysis in the review proper. Apart from this being longer than my normal Snippets, talking about this movie required spoilers which I try to avoid as much as I can. Still, as I said before, I felt frustrated at not being able to talk at length about this movie in the review proper, so I created this companion piece. Hopefully it clears some things up and hopefully this’ll be the last time I need to clear up some esoteric fog.


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