Understanding The Symbolism Of Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!”

Did you really understand “mother!”?

Darren Aronofsky has treated the worldwide viewers with some of the most mind-blowing films of the modern cinema. Whilst “Requiem For A Dream” remains the most prominent work of the American director in my opinion, I whole-heartedly admire “The Fountain” and “The Black Swan” too.

Not only is he a filmmaker, whose craftsmanship is top-notch visually, but his films like to push the limits and boggle the viewers. However, “mother!” is by far the most complex of his works.

To begin, I’ll state the obvious – this article will surely contain spoilers. If you didn’t have the chance to watch “mother!” – don’t blame me. If you simply refuse to watch it anyway – feel free to continue.

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In its core, “mother!” is a biblical variation that answers the question “what if God had a wife?”. But before we can even grasp the more-or-less form of it, Aronofsky throws lots and lots and lots of symbols, references and metaphors, which heat the brain to eventually make it pop. It’s really hard to grasp them all at one screening and second one would be a suicide. Still, some part is pretty direct, not to say obvious.

Cracking down the symbolism

Firstly, the house built from the ashes refers to the creation of the world “from nothing”, as it was described in Genesis. God has created world out of his will, but that leads to the first skewing from Aronofsky’s vision in comparison with the biblical source.

In “mother!”, it’s not God, who creates – it’s his loving wife, played by Jennifer Lawrence. She’s the one, who piece-by-piece rebuilds the house, ergo creates the world from scratch. Even Javier Bardem’ character emphasizes that by saying “she breathes life into this place”.

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Since I mentioned Bardem’s portrayal of God, there’s plenty of things to say about him – apart from the fact that his acting was rather bad. In Aronofsky’s vision, God is a writer – he spends days on sweating his mind in order to create a revolutionary poem. It does ring a bell, as it sounds a lot like he’s working on the Ten Amendments, even though we never hear those words in the film. Such theory is backed by the cult following “the writer” and how his words changed people in a very direct manner. Whilst he is trying to focus, it’s his wife who slowly builds the house and takes care of the everyday routine to remain ongoing.

Once the film is really set in motion, Aronofsky uses much more metaphors. From the moment the first guests arrive – Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer – the biblical references become even more opaque. Whilst the sons of the aforementioned couple are Cain and Abel, the peculiar duo is a symbolical mixture of Sodomy allegory (they have sex in God’s house, right?), but they also might be Adam and Eve (being close to the God, but always craving more).

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When things truly begin to unravel, Aronofsky not only uses the Bible, but also our very own history. The house becomes a warfare playground – there are riots, there’s terrorism and class divisions, hunger of the poor ones and blind cult followings. There’s criticism of pursuit after fame and short-sighted egocentrism. In all of this mess, Aronofsky never forgets to remain orbiting around God’s figure. Once Jennifer Lawrence gives Bardem a baby, he uses it to strengthen his relationship with his followers and once they kill the child (an obvious reference to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ), then he tells his wife to forgive them for they did not want this to happen.

But all of this is pretty simple to understand. What is way more confusing, is actually grasping “what the hell did this guy want to say by all this mess?”. Indeed, it’s frustrating how vapid, chaotic and razzle-dazzled “mother!” becomes over time.

Yet somehow, in all this chaos, there’s lots of sense.

Take this for example – fire is a symbol of chaos, right? It destroys everything, turning it into ash and smoke. When we see riots in the streets, there’s always fire included. And all this mess leads to the final act of burning down the house, God’s house. From chaos, the world is reborn.

But even more interesting is who rebuilds it. Lawrence’s character is blindly in love with her husband, obeying his orders, however firmly she tries to stand by her opinions. He decides to invite people to his kingdom, although it creates distance between the two of them. He wants attention, he needs to “be” for his followers and not for him. In a way, it is a very disturbing contradiction to the Christian values, which are built on the grounds of family ties. In “mother!”, God could be understood as duplicitous, as if he himself craves the spotlight at all costs. Furthermore, he hurts his wife – even if doing it subconsciously. She’s often left to struggle on her own, faltering among strangers in her own house.

Even more compelling is the answer to the most unimaginable part of the Holy Bible. Why would a father allow his son to be a martyr, patiently observing his slow and painful death? As to my understanding, Aronofsky claims that God never had love for the child in the first place (contradicting the words of the Holy Bible). It’s portrayed in the scene when he allows the crowd to hold the newborn, but also even earlier. He doesn’t want to take care of his wife, because he is more interested in people bringing gifts for them. And her instinct – to protect the child at all costs – is much more human than Bardem’s misplaced sense of higher values. It’s most powerful in one of the last scenes, where the perpetum mobile is revealed – God needs to create and allow it to be destroyed in order to make the circle of life close itself. At the cost of a loving wife and his child.

Hence, “mother!” is a tale about rejection in a very symbolical way. About power that is abused, but without evil intentions to do so. It’s also a film that tries to confront some of the Bible’s most compelling truths and stories.

All in all, “mother!” could be – and probably was – a topic for countless discussions. Although the film was messy, sometimes terribly acted (I’m looking at you Jennifer Lawrence), it possessed a unique artistry on a more “meta” level. I dare to say that all the acclaim that this film has garnered (f*** the Razzies) should encourage Aronofsky to direct even bolder, more metaphorical and surreal pictures. “mother!” has reached an edge at points, but there still space for more and who could it explore if not Darren Arronofsky?

 

What did you think of “mother!”? What are your theories and how did you understand the movie? Comment below!

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